A close view of several macadamia nuts, some cracked open and some fully in their shells.

Six hours of irrigation a day, all spring and summer. That is how much water it takes to get a healthy, leafy, perfect yielding macadamia tree. For Chris and Janeen Harte, a few days in a row of rain this spring has been a boon after several years in a row of drought in Bundaberg in Queensland, Australia — one of the most prolific macadamia growing regions in the world. But like growers everywhere; water, weather and crop prices are what they watch to make sure they have a profitable season.

A small dog sits in green grass in a large macadamia nut orchard row. The plants are tall, tidy, and bright green.

The Harte’s dog, Miku, in the macadamia orchard.

“Whatever type of farming you do there will be highs and lows, and we just had a sustained period of highs for the crop,” says Chris. “Recently, we have had lots of lows when it comes to weather and prices, and we have gotten very good at managing what the Southern Hemisphere and the market can throw at us.”

While macadamia nuts may make you think of Hawaii, you may want to think again. The macadamia nut is actually native to Australia and is farmed around the world in locations with temperate climates. The macadamia nut is also the only native Australian plant that has been developed and traded internationally as a commercial food product, and Australia is second only to South Africa in macadamia nut production.

The Hartes were originally sugar cane producers on their family owned and operated farm. When Chris’s father decided to retire in 2007, he and Janeen decided to sell off 120 hectares of their land to a commercial macadamia operation, and keep the remaining 20 hectares for themselves, which they decided to convert to macadamia nuts.

“We were really too small to be a successful sugar cane business, but we didn’t know a thing about macadamia nuts when we started,” says Chris. “But the guys who bought around us were very helpful, in fact this is a very helpful industry — everyone is about sharing information, and about continuous learning because we need each other to continue to grow.”


They planted their farm from a nut … well, 9,000 nuts. Macadamia tree seedlings are propagated in sand, and it takes two years from the time the nuts are planted in the sand until they are ready for transplant onto the farm. At that point, the seedlings are around a metre in height, including the root. They are all planted using GPS machinery and it took around a week to plant all 9,000 trees.

They planted four different macadamia varieties and, on the advice of local commercial growers, decided against the industry standard row spacing of 8-metres with four metres between each tree. Instead, they planted 7-metre-wide rows with 3¼ metres between trees. Because their trees are closer together, the Hartes have to prune between them every year to allow for light and air and to reduce disease risk.

A dark green Macadamia nursery with young, grafted trees. A bright rainbow is in the sky above the nursery.

Macadamia nursery with young grafted trees.

“When we started, as our tonnes went up, macadamia prices went up,” says Chris. “Of the four varieties we planted, by year four we had about a tonne of production from 2,000 trees. By year five all four varieties were producing nuts. Each year our tonnage would double for about a decade and then everything plateaued. It’s only been this year that prices have started to fall off.”

The Australian Macadamia Society (AMS) is a big part of the industry’s success. It represents 75 per cent of all growers who, together, produce about 85 per cent of the nation’s total macadamia output. The AMS is heavily research and development focused, with $5 million (AUD) each year collected from a levy directed toward research initiatives. The Society holds seminars, events and field days throughout the year to help advance the industry and see it through challenging times.

A large green tractor sits on green grass, and the tracker a macadamia harvester with a large front pronged section.

Macadamia nut harvester.

AMS has been around for 40 years and the Hartes say it has been an excellent source of information as they entered the business and as their farm has become more profitable. “It’s also an industry that heavily promotes women in farming,” says Janeen. “Whether that be as farmers themselves, in processing, marketing or as agronomists, there are a fair few women in the macadamia nut business.”

One of the big investments the Hartes had to make when they switched to macadamia nuts was in specialized equipment. “With cane farming you were harvesting and clearing. With trees the crop stays in the ground every year,” says Chris. “There are many people who contract out the management of their trees but I like to do it myself so everything is done when it is best for my crop.”

A large bin within a silo filled with macadamia nuts in their brown shells, drying.

Macadamia nuts dry in silo.

Some of the specific equipment the Hartes needed to purchase included a sprayer that uses an air blaster to spray the trees with crop protection products. They needed a pruner/mulcher, which throws mulch at the bottom of the trees to keep moisture around the roots. They also needed a sweeper/blower to clear away the mulch before the nuts start to fall to the ground. And they invested in a sweeper harvester, which collects the nuts that have fallen to the ground — ripened nuts are picked up from the ground, not plucked from trees. The couple also built a sorting shed with an air sorter and a nut dehusker to prepare the seeds for storage or to send to the processor.


While tree management is a year-long process, the season begins in July at the end of harvest when they prune the trees and place the mulch around the bases. In September the trees begin to flower for the upcoming season. At that time the Hartes are managing for weeds around the trees to keep them from stealing nutrients.

“We are comfortable with our place in the industry, and we’ll continue to learn, get better at what we do and see where it goes” CHRIS HARTE

A close view of a branch on a green macadamia tree. The branch has many green macadamia nuts that are not ready yet to be picked.

Macadamia trees.

Around Christmas they will start cleaning at the base of the tree as the nuts start to fall.

“We are also spraying for bugs probably five or six times between September and January,” says Chris. “We are always on the lookout for disease such as husk spot or husk rot, but they can be managed with a foliar fungicide application. We fertilize once a week, every week through our trickle-type irrigation. We use different types of nutrition during the height of the season, and we will spread it out when things get cooler, but we still are applying nutrition at least once a month even in cooler months.

Large grey metal rectangular structures that are macadamia nut silos stand in a row.

New silos

Their trickle irrigation system has been critical, given the many years of drought the region has been susceptible to over the past 18 years. The Hartes have access to a local damn for water and are currently on 100 per cent allocation, and have been for the past decade, which is a relief after some pretty dry years.

The Hartes have one part-time employee who helps on the farm about 20 hours a week, primarily with the physical labour such as husking and pruning. When needed, their employee is able to manage the farm most of the year outside of harvest, allowing the couple to travel or spend time with their grandchildren.

Macadamia nuts in their brown shells are strewn about on the ground, indicating they are ready to be harvested.

Nuts ready for harvest.

“We don’t have any big plans for expansion — we would like to see retirement in the not-too-distant future,” says Chris. “It’s a good industry to be a part of because it isn’t as time intensive — we are able to take breaks and go on holidays. We are comfortable with our place in the industry, and we’ll continue to learn, get better at what we do and see where it goes.”