Adding value through research at Torere Macadamias.
Torere Macadamias Limited (TML) orchard is a family business owned and managed by Vanessa Hayes, her partner Rod Husband, and son Walter Rika. The certified organic orchard covers nine hectares with 1500 mature trees with 50,000 nursery plants on another two-hectare trial block. The orchard is based on family land owned by Vanessa, who was endowed by whānau to take on the kaitiakitanga of the whenua.
The wider family were experienced horticulturalists, growing kiwifruit, nashi, avocado and passionfruit. Vanessa is committed to growing organically and wanted a crop that didn’t require intensive spraying of chemicals or high water needs, one that was suitable for the coastal property, and as per whānau expectations, would provide work for local Māori. She decided on macadamias - a niche, high value nut crop. The choice was underpinned by the high demand from the local market. In 2018, 185 tonnes of macadamia were imported into New Zealand, with only 60 tonnes produced locally.
Macadamias are a subtropical Australian native crop that thrives in warm coastal conditions. They are a close relative to the New Zealand native, rewa rewa (Knightia excelsa). Depending on location, young trees may need wind and frost protection.
Most varieties require no pruning, irrigation or spraying. Further, ‘dropping’ varieties can be easily harvested with minimal labour using a low-tech hand method, or mechanical harvesters resembling a golf ball retriever to gather the fallen nuts. Vanessa says, “I loved macadamias, wanted to grow the best at Torere” and so began her research into the crop in 1983.
Torere Macadamias was planted out in the late 1980s. Vanessa’s goal to grow the biggest and best tasting macadamias has seen her spend the last 35 years trialling varieties, as well as accessing and contributing to scientific research. She laughs, “I didn’t realise it was going to take 35 years”, but concedes, “I love it so much, there is no retirement – it’s fun!”.
In the late 1980s the industry reached a peak before declining in the late 1990s. There were issues around a lack of commercial orchards with small lifestyle blocks, growing ‘stick tight’ varieties with low yields that required hand-pickers for harvesting the crop.
Vanessa looked at existing research and over time has been able to contribute to that. Attending industry events, field days and conferences in Australia, Hawaii and China; Vanessa Hayes met many influential macadamia scientists including Dr Grant Thorp from Plant & Food Research, who has been leading research on nut production in Australia. TML continues to collaborate on research with Plant & Food Research.
TML ran trials on different varieties, looking for trees that were:
- suited to New Zealand’s diverse growing conditions
- dropping varieties which could be mechanically harvested from the ground, with a choice of harvest times from April to December to reduce labour needs
- high yielding with high percentage of quality whole kernel
- growth habit, identifying small, open tree varieties requiring minimal pruning
- and that produced a good kernel with a high % remaining whole when extracted
TML has now trialled over 42 varieties from the early trees dominant in New Zealand in the 70s and 80s, alongside imported Australian, Hawaiian and South African cultivars of Tetraphylla, Integrifolia and hybrids.
The trials identified 12 varieties suited to local conditions and met Vanessa’s criteria. Early issues with the Green Vegetable Bug (GVB) also added a new parameter – to find trees less susceptible to the pest that is attracted to the high sugar content of the nuts. The only other pest of note for the crop is rats. Of the top 12, six were chosen from which to build the stock for the industry, with varieties grafted on to root stock from ‘mother trees’ from spring to autumn for the five days prior to and five after the full moon, when the sap is at its most mobile, to ensure a good graft.
Trees are harvested from year three and increases rapidly in production until year seven. At the start, Vanessa and her team initially harvested the fallen nuts by hand, but now use rakes and shovels, with the nuts stored in bins before sending for processing.
Different varieties offer a different percentage of sugar to oil, with early season harvested trees having higher sugar, and the later season higher oil content. Each variety then becomes a base for different products depending on the preferred taste and texture. The varieties enable TML a continuous harvesting season from early April to December.
Recent analysis of the six best performing varieties at TML, in collaboration with the High Value Nutrition National Science Challenge and Plant & Food Research (with Principal Scientist Dr Carolyn Lister), has identified that nuts grown in the eastern Bay of Plenty appear to have a higher concentration of vitamin C, B6 and selenium than macadamias grown overseas. High B6 concentration levels are significant for health benefits such as digestive health, energy, immune function, bone and oral health and maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Vanessa says, “Torere Macadamias nuts are reputably the biggest and best tasting in the world, and knowing more about them is useful for consumers looking for healthy choices and for growers looking to potentially incorporate macadamias into their own orchards.”
TML is looking to incorporate the findings into their marketing in 2023. Plant & Food Research have also applied for funding to validate the earlier research comparing nutritional value of New Zealand grown macadamia with macadamia grown overseas. This validation will support work to build the broader macadamia industry within New Zealand. The new information will be used in nutrition data available for consumers on the packaging.
TML is playing a key driving role in building the industry - through expanding the nursery, training focused on Māori inclusion, workshops and supply of trees from their nursery. They have developed the NZ Macadamia Industry 10-year Growth Strategy in 2018 and are fully involved in achieving the goals of:
- 1,000 ha of TML’s macadamia varieties grown organically by 2029.
- a focus on developing Māori whenua to support and improve whanau wellness, training and education and economic growth in the regions.
- building a recognised, successful NZ brand for organic, sustainably grown, nutritious, healthy macadamias.
TML is collaborating with EIT Tairawhiti to deliver Level 2-4 horticulture qualifications. The NZQA backed courses have adapted the TML training manual and use of the maramataka (working to the different phases of the moon) for their resources.
The courses are being run in locations where they’re needed for future growers and grower collectives. Presently there are 10-12 people attending courses being run in Waihau Bay/Raukokore; Mataatua (Eastern BOP from Pukehina to Torere), and Ruatoria. There is strong interest from iwi and landowners, such as farmers and lifestyle block owners wanting to diversify and grow a financially viable and sustainable organic food crop. There is also the opportunity to form regional grower collectives to spread the load of harvest and processing equipment.
At this stage they’re working predominantly with iwi groups who are in the process of establishing or growing their own orchards. Vanessa is delighted to see Māori returning to their land and experiencing the connection and joy of getting their hands dirty as they develop their whenua. There are numerous opportunities to have a strong Māori provenance in the end product and to use Mātauranga to add to the value proposition for New Zealand-grown macadamia.
In 2017 Vanessa took on the role of vice president of the NZ Macadamia Society, where she continues to be a part of growing a strong local industry and creating collegial connections between growers.
Vanessa is currently working with Plant & Food Research to identify TML’s soil health and growing techniques to replicate their varieties consistent high yields, quality and unique nutrition results for all new macadamia growing environments to utilise, and research evaluating’ dwarf’ root stock.
They’re also involved in trials to regulate flowering (and therefore pollination) to enable a shorter harvesting window and increase yields from young. One approach is to evaluate the use of cincturing or girdling (ringbarking) that has become common in the kiwifruit industry. With Plant & Food Research they’re looking at whether the practice is of value and the most effective time of girdling.
The Reddit Institute at Massey University has a PhD student researching functional food and high value oil extraction from the husks and shells to add to Torere Macadamias future product development range. The husks are already used offshore by the cosmetic industry.