MACADAMIA grower Phil Zadro stopped counting his macadamia trees many years ago but he knows he has eclipsed the one million mark.
The 84-year-old has properties in Bundaberg, Childers, Northern NSW, Mt Bauple, South Africa and most recently Emerald and produces 7500 tonnes of macadamias annually with large areas of planting set to gradually begin producing too.
As the world’s biggest macadamia grower, Mr Zadro has no plans of slowing down and is constantly looking at new ways to improve his planting techniques and locations to expand.
Challenge could very well be Mr Zadro’s favourite word and was the reason he decided to purchase a 4500 hectare cotton farm in Emerald and transform it into his next ‘macadamia land’.
Work is currently underway planting the first 600 hectares on trees on the property and Mr Zadro said it would be two to three years before he would know if the area was suitable for macadamia production..
He said he had strongly considered choosing a location in Mozambique or Swaziland but couldn’t go past the strength of the Australian industry.
“We are 95 per cent certain that Emerald will be a good area to grow macadamias but we need to fine tune some of those challenge that we have in there predominately environmental challenges,” he said.
“Heat, water, stress, basically they are the challenges.
“The land is very suitable to macadamias. Emerald has some of the best soil in Australia to grow anything provided you have water.”
As speakers at the Food Heroes dinner in Bundaberg pointed out, Mr Zadro doubted the potential of Bundaberg for growing macadamias when the earliest families took up the opportunity.
But he soon caught onto their bright idea and was one of the first corporate investors to shift his large-scale commercial macadamia farms north to Bundaberg.
With future demand for macadamias not slowing down anytime soon, the former construction company owner said it was the same situation when he first started growing.
“I was given a feasibility study on macadamias by the late John Wilke and when I read it i thought here is a product you can do everything mechanically, it has got a long shelf life of approximately three years and a great future possible so let’s have a go at it,” he said.
With trees in varying locations and weather conditions across Australia there are different practices across each of Mr Zadro’s properties to suit the climate but one thing remains the same; innovation and using the latest practices are a must.
He is the first to admit that even after about 36 years in the industry it’s only now that he is beginning to realise how little they are still yet to know about macadamias.
“Technology comes easy to us, it’s mainly how to grow macadamias that is the most difficult part and this is what we are wrestling with,” he said.
“It’s only been around for possibly 40 or 50 years as opposed to other products such as grapes or wheat or corn so there is a lot of information around for them but macadamia, we are still writing the book.”
Four or five years ago average yields across Mr Zadro’s properties were three to three and a half tonne to the hectare.
Now the average is up to about four and a half tonne to the hectare with aspirations to expand yields even further to five to five and half tonne to the hectare.
He said the gap between supply and demand in the industry had been around since he started growing but it was a beautiful problem.
“I do encourage many people to start in the macadamia industry because it’s an industry that needs to expand and it’s also quite significant,” he said.
“Australia has done more work than any other nation in macadamia to date.
“For the market to expand it needs a leader somewhere and Australia is doing a very very good job in that regard.
“Australia product globally is viewed with a lot of respect and Australia is very very well poised to expand the industry.”
Read more about the macadamia industry from the Food Heroes Bundaberg event in next Thursday’s Queensland Country Life.