The landmark Rookwood Weir project was a 'key catalyst' for Australia's largest publicly listed agricultural property trust, to establish long-term macadamia orchards in central Queensland.
Rural Fund Management, a subsidiary of Rural Funds (RFF), has established 400 hectares of new macadamia orchards in the Gogango-district, 70 kilometres south west of Rockhampton, by converting former cattle properties.
These properties, include Riverton (1015 ha), located in the Fitzroy region, consisting of 161 ha of newly established plantings and 259 ha of planned macadamia plantings, whilst their Rookwood Farms aggregation (3653 ha), has 777 hectares of planned macadamia plantings.
The company also owns six properties located in Maryborough region, totalling 1188 ha, with 640 ha of planned macadamia plantings.
In mid-2020, RFF announced an ambitious five year plan, worth $500 million, to shift its investment focus from cattle and almond to macadamia nuts, with plans to develop a 5000 ha macadamia portfolio in Queensland.
The trust owns a diversified portfolio of Australian farm assets which are leased predominantly to corporate agricultural operators.
In September 2022, RFM signed the lease of their 3000 ha macadamia orchards at Gogango and Maryborough, over to global asset manager, The Rohatyn Group for 40 years.
Full production after 2025
At the Riverton Farm, which neighbours the Rookwood Weir project site, planning and development is underway for the company's future Macadamia orchards.
The first Macadamia plantings started in September 2021 and soon, the farm will have about 400 ha in the ground, consisting of over 130,000 trees.
RFM's Fitzroy Macadamia Operations area manager, Wolfgang Schroeder, said they were currently developing different orchards in stages.
"Our aim is to establish around 2500 ha in the region over the next few years," Mr Schroeder told the Queensland Country Life.
"The first plantings will have some crop (nuts) on them in the next year, but they will only reach full production after year seven."
In a nutshell, the yield potential of the farm was in excess of 13,500 tonnes of Macadamia nuts.
While Macadamias are native to Australia, specifically in the Gympie region, historically, there hasn't been many long-operating orchards in the central Queensland.
Mr Schroeder said the central Queensland climate suited the trees well.
"We view Macadamias as an attractive crop and commodity that will be profitable over time as the plantings mature," he said.
"RFM has experience in other tree nut sectors and therefore very familiar and comfortable with such tree nuts which tend to be less perishable and potentially more mechanised than fresh fruits such as citrus.
"With this suitable climate coupled with good soils and excellent management practices, we will produce good quality macadamia nuts from high yielding macadamia trees."
Riverton's orchard developments include a highly efficient irrigation system with dedicated under tree micro sprinklers and separate full cover sprinklers for mid row management.
Since it's announcement in 2018, the landmark Rookwood Weir project has caught the attention of many landholders and agricultural investors, looking to tap into the valuable water source it will eventually capture, for their future cropping or livestock investments.
In December 2020, RFM purchased a 21,600 mega litre Medium Priority Lower Fitzroy River water allocation, which will be sourced from Rookwood Weir, for $32.4 million.
The allocations, and 5,963 ML of additional Fitzroy River allocations previously acquired, will be applied to the development of their 2500 ha of macadamia orchards, and development of irrigation for cropping and cattle production.
Mr Schroeder said the water security from Rookwood Weir was a key catalyst for RFM's significant investment in the region.
"Having water security out of the weir will go a long way in securing RFM's involvement in the region in the long run, creating jobs and adding value to the region," he said.
"The Rookwood Weir development which will provide supplemented water was a key catalyst for our development in this area."
Pending weather, the project was on track to finalise construction by October 2023.
Macadamia growers facing lowest farmgate prices in over ten years
Australian Macadamia growers are facing the lowest farmgate prices for nut-in-shell in more than a decade; well below the cost of production.
Due to a global oversupply, farmgate prices have dropped from highs of more than $6 a kilogram nut-in-shell to below $2 this year.
Over the next five years, global macadamia supply is expected to grow by two-thirds to 500,000 tonnes a year.
Mr Schroeder said RFM remains confident prices will recover in time, once they begin production.
"Macadamias like all commodities will have price cycles. We are confident that macadamias are an attractive nut category that will recover in time," he said.
"There will always be demand for high quality macadamia nuts and RFM developments will produce high yields of quality products."
Developing the Fitzroy Food Bowl
The Rookwood Weir project will capture valuable water in the lower Fitzroy River, with 45,000 ha of land suitable for irrigated agriculture.
The Rockhampton Regional Council is moving lock step with agricultural industry and both state and federak governments to develop the food bowl.
Current investment of $900,000 from the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the council in the Making Water Work' program is focused on developing the Fitzroy Food Bowl through planning for new and innovative agriculture in the region.
Rockhampton Region Mayor Tony Williams stressed the importance of investments in water infrastructure which underpinned the Fitzroy Food Bowl.
"Already we are seeing the real and tangible benefits of Rookwood Weir which is driving growth in agriculture jobs and investment in our region," Cr Williams said.
"Rural Funds Management's Riverton macadamia orchard is a great example of the investment we want to see in the Fitzroy Food Bowl as we work to expand on our horticulture, cropping and livestock production.
"Through the Making Water Work program, Council is working with local landowners and primary producers to get the infrastructure, services and policy settings in place to drive the food bowl initiative forward."
"Through Making Water Work, we are partnering with government, primary producers, the CRCNA and the community to identify barriers, find solutions and maximise opportunities that will increase agricultural output in the region and create a more robust, sustainable agriculture sector for the future."