Bundaberg Growers Trip
Over the first three days of August 2012, 40 growers travelled to Bundaberg to look at the new CNA factory and study farming practices in the area.
First stop was the Gowan’s family farm at Glasshouse Mountains. Drew and Max Gowan explained they are currently spreading and incorporating waste paper in their orchard to provide organic material.
The waste paper is a mixture of waste paper and fly ash, both by-products from the paper mill at Petrie on the outskirts of Brisbane. The cost is $3 per tonne, plus transport to farm.
The Gowan’s spread waste paper down the row centre and profile it and the organic material in the interrow back under their trees. They found the surface feeder roots grow rapidly into this material, holding it together, extracting the nutrients within it.
Max is participating in a QLD DPI research project investigating how improving silo operation affects internal discolouration (brown centre) levels. A farm silo has been fitted with a second fan, mounted directly behind the first, and additional vents installed on top, for improved airflow.
They are awaiting test results to see if there has been a quality improvement.
Macadamia Farm Management
Bundy sort is a new dehusking and drying facility constructed by Macadamia Farm Management located at the Bingara sugar mill.
Scott Allcott, owner of Macadamia Farm Management explained they needed a facility to dry macadamias to maintain quality and eliminate their post harvest quality problems.
“In the past NIS was stored in silos outside, using only ambient air and we found our quality wasn’t as good as we wanted. So we decided to develop this facility to maintain the quality we are producing in the paddock” Scott said.
The system has the capacity to hold 300 tonne of NIS, in a Bungay style drying room, and uses shipping containers for bins.
“As we work across many growers and farms, the system has many bins, allowing us to keep each batch separately. It provides great information to benchmark each farm’s performance and adjust our management practices when needed” said Scott.
The facility utilises a multi-scan sorter to sort NIS after drying.
In the orchards, Scott has embarked upon spreading mill mud under trees to provide organic matter to the orchards and improve tree performance.
“Mill mud is a waste product from the sugar mill and we use trucks to run it out down the inter-row and then use a soil profiler to spread it under our trees. We are applying it at 100t/ha, with the aim to only apply it once every three to four years,” Scott said.
To provide access for trucks, tree rows are hedged back on the sides after harvest.
Since applying mill mud, Scott has found his tree feeder roots are spreading through the material, the incidence of phytophthora has decreased and production from trees has increased.
“It takes 12 months before you see results, but where we have applied it, trees are a darker green, are less sparse in the crown and our production has increased. We have taken blocks from two tonnes per hectare to four tonnes per hectare, and quality has also improved,” Scott said.
In addition to adding mill mud, Scott has also modified his fertiliser program to improve tree health.
Consolidated Nuts Australia
CNA , the only macadamia processing company located in Bundaberg is owned 50% by MPC, and has been designed to ensure extreme efficiency.
General Manager, Shane Johnson took the group on a tour of the facility.
The receivals area is highly versatile and can accept deliveries from a ute-load right through to a B-double.
The factory is equipped with a 750 tonne capacity Bungay style drying system that can dry NIS down to cracking moisture within seven days.
“The system is extremely efficient” explained Shane, “because we draw air from the ceiling cavity that has been warmed using energy from the sun, we only need to use our heaters a small amount,” Shane said.
On the factory floor the processing line is very short, which means few staff are needed to operate the line and as kernel moves short distances, there is less chance for kernel to be damaged.
The factory sets an industry benchmark for efficiency and quality.
Hinkler Park is owned by the Zadro family, covering 3000ha in the Bundaberg region. Trees range in age from 25 years to newly planted .
Clayton Mattiazzi, Farm Operations Manager, provided an overview of the recent precision nutrition management program.
It uses small, remote controlled planes and satellite images to determine the nitrogen status of trees to ascertain correct nitrogen levels needed to be applied.
It means application rates can be varied for each tree in a block.
To apply the fertiliser, a GPS system tells the spreader where it is and the spreaders controller varies the rate based on the location and information collected from the satellite image.
Clayton said: “Basically the map generated from the satellite image is entered into the spreader controller and the controller changes the rate automatically based on location. It’s early days using this system but it looks promising”.
The group visited the dehusking shed, where 100T of NIS can be processed daily. Most nut arrives partially dehusked, using on-board dehuskers fitted to harvesters. The shed has two sections, a dehusking section and a resorting area.
Clayton also explained that Hinkler Park are modifying their harvesters to increase their harvesting frequency.
“We are currently modifying one of our harvesters to be able to harvest the entire width of a row in one pass. If it works we will modify all of our harvesters”.
MacManagement have established and manage 275ha in the Bundaberg region.
Scott Norval, MacManagement’ s General Manager explained how this season they installed a dehusking system to cope with the increased crop size. It consists of a receival hopper, a surge bin to hold nut when harvesting faster than they can dehusk, and air sorters to remove husk and other foreign material before the sorting table.
“This season we have only sorted nuts once, straight after dehusking. Our quality results have been really good and hopefully we can continue to only sort once before we put the nut into the drying bins” Scott said.
This season MacManagement purchased a Monchiero harvester. “The harvester picks up everything. We thought our orchard was clean but after the first run with the harvester we found there were areas where it wasn’t as clean as we thought. The harvester has done a great job and we are really happy with it” Scott said.
Next year Scott is planning to run the harvester through the orchard for the pre-harvest cleanup to make sure it is clean.
Monchiero have been developing an on board dehusker that they have trialed at MacManagement. “The dehusker has worked really well, particularly on green husk. It is taking off between 80-90% of the husk” Scott said.
Monchiero are currently refining the dehusker and it is anticipated it will work even better next season.
The Steinhardt family own and operate Macadamias Australia, a vertically integrated macadamia business. They have a 120,000 tree orchard and have been developing new ways to improve efficiency.
“We were concerned about dehuskers breaking nuts and damaging the kernel inside and have been working on a new type of dehusker” Trevor Steinhardt said.
The dehusker uses a large rubber tyre with steel bars set around the outside. The nut passes between the tyre and the bars, and rubbing causes the husk to tear off. “As the tyre has a large surface area and the pressure can be changed, we are able to adjust it for each variety” Trevor said.
The performance of the dehusker has been impressive and Trevor found losses have decreased since implementing the new system.
In the orchard Trevor demonstrated a machine built to remove sticktights from trees, called “The Nut Whacker”. It has long plastic fingers set on a wheel off set from a main shaft that revolves as it is dragged down the row. The fingers penetrate through the canopy and cause branches to shake and physically knock sticktights from the tree. “This machine removes any sticktights and also removes some foliage from within the tree canopies. We have found it to be extremely useful and it has reduced the problems sticktights caused” Trevor said. Note: the dehusker and the nut whacker are patent pending and so we are unable to print a pictures of them at this time.
The Bundaberg trip provided great insight into some innovative and exciting developments in the macadamia industry.
Growers on the trip noted the typical Queensland enthusiasm and confidence and were impressed with the investment made in the future of the industry.
MPC thanks all growers visited for their time, information and demonstrations.
Field Day at David Jones’ Farm
An informative “ orchard walk” style field day was conducted at David and Ann Jones ‘Tweebreena’ property in October 2012 and was well attended by sixty five people.
Featured topics were:
- Working safely near overhead power lines in orchards
- Canopy management – tree removal at ‘Tweebreena’
- Nut in shell drying using a ‘Bungay style drying system’
- Erosion control
Working safely near overhead power lines
Michael Dall from WorkCover addressed the danger to macadamia growers when working near power lines in their orchards.
There is a Code of Practice – Work Near Overhead Power Lines available to macadamia growers, setting out the permitted safe working distance which must be maintained from power lines.
The Code illustrates various voltages of power lines and the critical factors which apply. The code is available from the local office of WorkCover or on line at www.workcover.nsw.gov.au
Using tree removal the Jones family embarked on a canopy management plan to introduce light back into their mature trees and onto the orchard floor.
The orchard has two plantings with two different densities. The first in the early 80’s was on a 10 x 5 metre spacing and has 246, 508, H2, 344 and 741 varieties. The second planting in the early 90’s was planted at 8 x 5 metres with 344 and 660.
The close spacing of this second planting caused trees to compete for light, creating tall trees with hollow centres and little canopy growth near the base due to lack of light penetration.
These trees have expanded to cover the inter-row space which introduced problems of loss of ground cover, soil erosion, and an orchard floor that remains wet through harvest with a subsequent major reduction in yield.
Greg Jones said: “Work to remove every second tree in every second row (25% tree removal) in the 8 x 5 blocks began in 2010.Thinning of the remaining rows will take place at a later date. Little sunlight reached the orchard floor in the 8 x 5 blocks and production was very low. These areas did not dry-out during harvest and harvesting was very difficult in the wet conditions. ”
“Since the tree thinning” said Greg, “we now have a lot more sunlight in the trees and on the orchard floor, ground cover is returning in the form of weeds and some grass and the ground dries out much better. We have planted smother grass in these areas as there is now plenty of light to allow it to grow. The trees are producing new shoots and are opening up and filling in the space from where the trees were removed.”
The removed trees were stacked up and then taken away by Surfmill contracting for free as part of the co-generation power plant at Broadwater Sugar Mill.
This first stage of tree removal was a big job, with trees cut and tractors used to haul the felled trees out. To make the job easier and to retain the wood chip as a mulch on the farm, David Jones recently bought an 18 inch self powered chipper and a medium sized excavator with a grab to feed it. The remaining 8 x 5 blocks will have 25% of the trees removed by felling with chain saws. After felling it will be chipped, with the wood chip spread under the remaining trees.
“After we finish the 8 x 5 metre blocks we will probably start on the 10 x 5 blocks. We will see how this work goes and then make our decision based on the results”, said Greg Jones.
Nut in Shell drying.
Tweebreena a 40 tonne ‘Bungay style’ macadamia drying system
“We had to hold the nuts in the outside blowdown silos for far too long before we could resort during wet weather. As a result of the nuts stored and remaining wet, we had a reduction in quality from brown centres, discolouration and mould. This new system dries the nuts quickly and efficiently and we can get them to the factory for processing with the original quality retained. The bins hold about a week’s harvest” said David.
Air recirculated through the four by ten tonne bins is sourced from just under the roof in the dehusking/machinery shed. Dry air is pumped by fan in the base of each bin through the nut bed where it accumulates moisture from the nuts.
When the circulated air accumulates to a pre determined moisture level, an exhaust fan purges some moisture laden air from above the nut bed. During purging new dry air is introduced and the cycle re-commences. If the introduced air is not sufficiently dry to be effectively used, a bank of electrical elements in the intake duct is turned on by the system. Heat expands the air which can carry a higher level of moisture. The elements may be in use for as little as 60 seconds in this process. When the nuts reach a pre determined moisture level the computer controlled system closes down.
The original ‘blow down’ silos are now only used for pre delivery storage of dried nut in shell.
Trees had been planted across a steep gully at the rear of the orchard prior to purchase by David. This gully traverses the tree rows for some 250 metres and carries a lot of water during a heavy rainfall event. Trees planted in the gully shaded the ground and as a result, grass died out.
With no protection, the gully eroded and the area became very difficult to manage and caused problems for harvesting.
With assistance from Gerry Ryan of the Catchment Management Authority (CMA), a plan to reconstruct the gully was formulated.
In 2009 trees were removed from the gully allowing sufficient light to reach the gully base so grass could regrow.
Large chunks of crushed rock were spread across the gully to revert the base shape from a ‘V’ to a dish shape. Rocks were then covered with soil.
The area was rolled and seeded with millet, which grew rapidly and held the soil in place. Straw bales were fixed in place across the gully at 24 metre intervals on tree lines to slow the flow rate of water during rainfall. Then on June 3rd 2010 the area was drenched by a rainfall event which delivered 200mm in a few hours. Much of the work held firm. There was however a trench formed down the centre of the gulley and several holes formed that corresponded with the tree rows where the soil may have been less compacted.
To fix the damage the holes and small trench were filled with soil using a tracked ‘Bobcat’, re-rolling the area, laying a jute mat and sowing a grass mix to stabilise the soil.
The jute mat was used because it gives temporary protection to the soil surface until the grass establishes. If there is heavy rainfall while the gully is regressing, the run off water will flow over the upper surface of the mat and not scour out the soil.
The jute mat covering is 4.0metres wide (two widths of 2.0m mat were used) and runs for the length of the gully. At the time of the field day the grass mix had started to germinate and there were grass shoots starting to protrude through.
The jute mat and seedlings emerging through it
Gerry Ryan from the CMA said “the mat has to be well pinned down to a smoothed soil surface to ensure that the grass seed germinates and grows through the mat, thus holding the mat in place. If the soil surface isn’t smooth, the seed germinates and grows under the loose mat, not through it. This causes the mat to be lifted by the grass and may become less effective in stopping soil erosion”. The jute mat should rot away in about six months, leaving the grass to hold the soil in place.
The block of trees that the gully runs through may now be harvested without the difficulty that has been experienced.
Did you know that the Northern Rivers CMA has grants available for works such as repairing this gully? To find out more contact Gerry Ryan at the CMA on 02 6627 0170.
MPC would like to thank the Jones Family for hosting this field day and showing us the changes they have been making on the farm. We also thank them for sharing their experiences and knowledge with all of us
Field day report at Lance Emery’s farm
Covering exposed roots and improving soil health – an alternative approach
More than 60 people attended the MPC field day on September 8th 2011 at Lance Emery’s farm. The focus of the day was on the work Lance has undertaken to improve his orchards sustainability by using green waste mulch and compost to cover exposed roots. This has improved soil health, provided erosion control and given a good orchard harvesting surface.
This day featured demonstrations of a steam weeder, an alternative to herbicide use, and three different machines available for spreading mulch and compost.
The Field Day started with a demonstration of steam weeding by Karen Muir from Weedtechnics. (www.weedtechnics.com).
Steam weeding causes plant cells to rupture and die. It is a contact control method that only kills the parts of the plants it contacts. Therefore to get good control, it is best to target young weeds and initially frequent applications are necessary.
The steam for the applicator is generated by a diesel powered boiler. The boiler demonstrated uses 9.0L of diesel /hour. Travel speed is determined by the height of the growth being sprayed, with the initial application applied at approximately 1.5km/hr. Once into a program, this can be increased to 6km/hr.
Delivery of the steam for weeding can be carried out manually using a steam lance or mechanically with a circular applicator or a combination of fixed lance and circular applicator (see photos below and over the page).
The circular applicator is designed to allow it to revolve around tree trunks and thus completely eradicate all weeds and grass from between the trunk area.
The steam has an immediate effect on the appearance of the grass and weeds in that they appear blackened by the heating effect of the steam. It was explained that the steam heat has very little effect on the beneficial micro/macro organisms within the soil as the heat from the steam doesn’t penetrate into the soil unless the weeder remains in the one spot for a long period of time.
A section of a tree row with long grass was treated two weeks prior to the field day and the results were viewed on the day. The demonstration area showed the steam weeder had a good result in knocking the grass down. To improve the result, a follow-up application would be ideal. For the best results the weeder needs to be used frequently initially to counter the regrowth of weeds and grass from viable plant systems that remain in the soil.
The steam weeder appears to be a useful method for controlling grass and weeds in a macadamia orchard and with some modification to improve the application system for macadamia orchards could be a valuable tool.
Lance Emery’s story
Lance is an inventive farmer prepared to think outside the square. He’s developed some innovative orchard practices to improve soil health and soil erosion control.
Lance’s results are dramatic – no exposed roots, a fibrous root system that binds the soil and mulch together, a surface that is easy to harvest from and a high microbial diversity in the soil. His orchard practices are a credit to Lance’s hard work, dedication and love of his farm.
No chemical fertilizer
Most people are surprised upon seeing Lance’s healthy trees when he tells them he hasn’t used chemical fertiliser (excluding trace elements and agricultural lime) for nineteen years.
“In 2004 I started to work on a problem in my orchard that resulted from ‘stem flow’ washing the soil out from between the trunks of the trees with-in the tree row. This erosion exposed the trees surface roots and made harvesting difficult with nuts being lost in the trench between the trees and caught under the tree roots” said Lance.
Lance thought he might be able to fill this trench in with recycled organic material and turn the trench into a mound. After searching around for a viable source of material, Lance found a good supply at his local council.
In the first year, Lance spread chicken litter and then the recycled material over the top by hand. After seeing the results of putting this material down, he then purchased a Wallaby Spreader to make spreading easier. The material was not ideal and was difficult to spread with the spreader. To overcome this problem, Lance initially thought of a double conveyor design but was convinced by a machinery manufacturer to install a pair of spinners to the end of the spreaders conveyor system. This allowed him to place the material exactly where he wanted it along the trunk line of the trees. The draw back was that it was a slow process. Today Lance is still working on modifications to the spreader, to make it run faster.
There was an unexpected benefit from the placement of the mulch down the tree row, with the mulch material acting as a barrier to water movement sideways, slowing surface water runoff on side slopes. Mobile silt was caught by the mounds and actually built up on the tree row. From this work Lance now has a mound down his tree rows which was described by someone as a “hard sponge” – you can squeeze the material but when you try to pull it apart it won’t separate easily due to the large number of roots in it.
Lance now uses annual applications of about 20.0kg of chicken litter and 15 kg mulch per tree which continues to create a low mound of rich dark soil across the tree root system. When the surface is disturbed, surface feeder roots become very obvious. This soil abounds with life and earth worms are very easy to find.
Trees continually fed with nutrients
Lance has found since starting this system his orchard production has stabilised. “I can now expect no more than about a 5.0t variation in my crop from one season to the next and I think it is because my trees are continually being fed with nutrients from the decomposing mulch and chicken litter and they don’t get stressed easily”.
Husk is used in areas of the orchard where the trees look like they may need a bit extra nutrition or on individual trees that are not doing as well as others.
Diversion drains a key part
The installation of diversion drains throughout the orchard has also been a major part of Lance’s work to overcome soil erosion. These drains serve 2 purposes – to carry the bulk of the surface water away from a tree block – and to stop water entering another block in the orchard. These drains have helped prevent damage from occurring when there are heavy rainfall events.
Limb removal is carried out across the farm to allow the regrowth of grass on the orchard floor to reduce soil erosion. In the oldest block of trees, they have now regrown to a point that the grass has retreated to all but the best lit areas in the block.
As a result, Lance is now preparing to remove every second tree in every second row of this block. He has prepared for this operation by experimenting with ringbarking the trees that he intends to remove, hoping that they might crop well once more before loosing their leaves. Lance see the loss of leaves from the trees to be removed as making the trees easier to handle when they are cut down and a bonus to the biomass that will be left behind in the orchard.
There are also many other different ideas and innovations that Lance has undertaken on his farm. All of these have been aimed at improving the farms sustainability, both financially and environmentally. It is a credit to him and something he should be tremendously proud of.
Mulch Spreading at Joof Albert’s farm
Joof Alberts has embarked on a process of spreading mulch under the trees on his farm to assist with increasing production, increasing soil water holding capacity, tree health, minimising erosion and covering exposed roots.
Joof has decided to apply a thick layer of mulch (approx 75mm thick) and do a section of the farm each year. The idea being that a thick layer of mulch will last longer and provide greater benefit to his trees, compared to applying a little “sprinkle” to all trees each year, which is hardly noticeable.
Joof has applied approx 60t/ha of mulch per hectare. The material has been sourced from the Ballina Waste Management Centre. This material was chipped at the waste centre using a tub grinder, with 2 grindings being done 6 weeks apart. This double grinding process produces a finer chip, which is better suited to macadamia orchards (as it has less pieces of material that can be picked up in a harvester).
The material was spread by Bill Johnson of Precision Mulch Spreading. The machine Bill uses allowed him to control the rate of application to achieve the heavier application level that Joof wanted.
The total cost was $38.45 per tonne. This includes the mulch, transport and spreading. As there is approximately 2m3 per tonne, the cost is $19.23/m3. Joof believes that this cost can be brought down by improving what he did, such as increasing the efficiency of transport.
Benefits from the mulch application
There are many benefits from spreading mulch or compost, and some of the most notable ones that Joof has observed are:
- In the areas where he spread the mulch there are no more exposed roots. This has improved the tree health and created a surface that in time will make harvesting easier.
- Erosion stopped – with all the rainfall experienced, Joof hasn’t seen any erosion in the areas where he applied the mulch.
- There is new fine feeder root growth occurring in the mulch. With all of the rainfall, this has the potential to reduce the effects of phytophthora on the trees.
There are many other benefits that have been found from applying heavy levels of organic mulch or compost, which have not been discussed here. These include reducing phytophthora disease incidence and improving nutrient cycling.
Harvesting from the mulch
The mulch was laid in November 2010 and the first harvest rounds have just been completed off the mulch. Joof has found that the material has settled down well, and the finger wheel harvester has been able to pick off it well. There is a slight depression where the outside wheel travels, but this is not impacting upon harvesting. In time, Joof believes the application of this mulch will pay tremendous dividends, creating a surface that the nuts will sit up on (rather than being trapped in between roots) and lower his erosion risk.