A breakthrough in macadamia breeding has produced young trees which can yield almost as much as a mature tree, making orchards more productive and profitable.
It can take 10 to 15 years before a macadamia tree reaches maturity and maximum yield, and since 2014, average yields have increased from 2.6t/ha to as high as 3.2t/ha, with the best Australian growers achieving 6.0 tonnes per hectare.
But researchers from The University of Queensland have found a trait that triggers earlier nut production from young trees, seeing their trial plantings reach as much as seven kilograms per tree after just four years - equating to 2.1t/ha nut-in-shell.
UQ Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation plant geneticist and breeder Dr Mobashwer Alam said the research into macadamia rootstock breeding targeted genetic characteristics which were highly desired by industry.
"The trait reduces the time before new plantings produce nuts from five to three years, meaning growers will be earning an income sooner after the costly establishment of an orchard," Dr Alam said.
The national macadamia breeding program at QAAFI has also found a trait which produces a shorter tree variety.
Dr Alam said this trait involved reducing the height of mature trees from an average of 15m down to around five, meaning pruning the trees was less labour-intensive and costly and harvesting the nuts was easier.
Alloway Macadamia farm manager Johan Oosthuizen, near Bundaberg, worked closely with the research team and said the new tree varieties had made a positive difference.
"We are seeing production of good quality kernels starting in the third year after planting, where in the past we had to wait a further two years," Mr Oosthuizen said.
"Some of these varieties are also smaller in structure so tree maintenance overall is reduced and delayed, which has a positive effect on your return on investment."
Mr Oosthuizen said orchards were a long-term investment and the grower needed to get it right from the start, which is why he recommended these varieties to growers so that they could make the most informed decision for new orchards.
Dr Alam said the new tree traits would allow the macadamia industry to continue expanding.
"We have demonstrated we can acquire the expertise needed to make an industry-relevant genetic gain," he said.
"That opens up an exciting new phase in macadamia breeding."
The improvements were achieved as part of the program led by QAAFI, with funding from Hort Innovation and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
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