A unique event that brings together key influencers within the Australian macadamia industry is reaping big rewards for macadamia growers and the industry.
The annual macadamia industry Consultants Forum gathers industry experts from all major Australian macadamia growing regions for a 2-day event to learn about the latest scientific research, innovation and technology.
In previous years, the Consultants Forum has provided the impetus for the rollout of ground-breaking new industry initiatives like Integrated Orchard Management and Integrated Orchard Nutrition.
At this year’s event macadamia consultants and farm managers heard from the scientists currently driving our industry’s research projects, including the large new Integrated Pest Management project and the pioneering Small Tree – High Productivity Initiative.
Exploring innovation and improvement, the event aims to identify the main areas the industry needs to focus on moving forward, with the ultimate goal of maintaining our position as the world leader in macadamia production, and moving us closer to our objective of raising average productivity from 2.4 tonnes/hectare to 3.5 tonnes by 2018.
Transitioning to data-based, proactive integrated pest & disease management
This year’s forum delivered overwhelming support for a move to a more data-based, proactive, industry-wide integrated pest & disease management program, with the three key areas of opportunity for growers being monitoring, timing and coverage.
Increased monitoring will deliver greater understanding of the pest pressure in the orchard, facilitating data-based decision-making about the best time to apply crop protection products, while protecting beneficial insects and creating a more sustainable orchard ecosystem.
This improved timing will then help with better canopy management (lowering tree height with machinery as needed), which in turn will significantly improve coverage. Establishing optimum coverage with suitable tree size will be one of the keys to vast productivity improvements in our industry.
Small tree high productivity project shows promising early results
Promising early results of the Small Tree High Productivity Initiative were unveiled by Dr. John Wilkie from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Dr Wilkie is leading the initiative, which is one of the largest horticulture projects of its kind in many years.
The project, which aims to boost crop yield per hectare by manipulating trees – via tree density, pruning techniques, tree architecture and traditional breeding – is now seeing intensively-planted 3-year-old macadamia trees producing commercially viable yields. This a huge improvement on the usual 5-8 years needed for a macadamia tree to begin producing a viable yield.
Dr Wilkie explained, “It’s exciting to see what macadamias can achieve, however it’s early days and we do not know how the more intensive systems will perform in the long term.
“An important point is that at this early stage we are seeing these commercially viable early yields only in the A203 variety and not 741, the other variety being trialled. This indicates that variety selection may be a very important factor in high density macadamia systems.
“The biggest differences in yield per hectare in the trial so far were not due to planting density or tree training, but due to variety. That may not be the case down the track, but right now in the early stages, its having the biggest effect.”
Dr. Wilkie said the project will continue to monitor the productivity as well as a range of the processes that underlie productivity – light interception, how light is distributed throughout the canopies, the tree structure and architecture, as well as the development of crop load.
“We hope this will give us a much better understanding of what drives productivity.”
The Small Tree – High Productivity Initiative is co-funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited* and an additional project partner is the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.
Molecular biology shows exciting potential
One of the molecular biologists from the project, Dr Francois Barbier from the University of Queensland, presented some preliminary findings on when and where the cellular level signalling that leads to flower production occurs in macadamia trees.
The molecular biology component is showing exciting potential, and presenting an opportunity to understand the genetic changes in the tree before they can be seen physically.
Macadamia modelling could revolutionise the way we grow macadamias
Dr Inigo Auzmendi, project scientist, from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation at the University of Queensland, delivered an insightful presentation on the new ‘macadamia modelling’ underway.
The modelling will enable scientists to run orchard scenarios on their computer before they decide to run large and costly experiments in the field.
“Project scientists could come up with a range of scenarios – ‘What happens if I prune using a mechanical hedger?’, ‘What if I use selective limb removal and cut this limb out?’, ‘What if I don’t cut the tree at all, what will happen to my canopy and crop?’
Already used in broadacre and grain crops, modelling has the potential to revolutionise the way macadamia trees are grown.
Eyes firmly on the future
The Consultants Forum is part of the Australian macadamia industry’s ongoing strategic commitment to on-farm improvements and grower education. Our long-term investment in research and development has been critical to our ability to compete in a global market, and will be key to maximising orchard productivity, building confidence in supply and continuing to lead the world in macadamia production.
*The project Transforming subtropical/tropical tree crop productivity (AI13004) is a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Avocado, Macadamia and Mango Funds.