by Dan Vallada – FoodBizDaily.com Sao Paulo
The macadamia nut has been cultivated in Brazil for four decades. Researchers are trying to increase its productivity and resistance.
The commercial cultivation of macadamia nuts in Brazil is recent, started only 40 years ago and productivity is still low. The country, the seventh in world production (2,400 tonnes in 7 thousand hectares), has about 250 producers, 160 of them in the State of Sao Paulo. The biggest Brazilian harvest happened in 2006, with 3,500 tons. Therefore, technicians and researchers are joining forces to study its varieties, nutrition, genetic improvement and phytosanitary control.
Producers support and cooperate with the initiative like Aleudo Coelho Santana, Jaboticabal (SP) who has 15 years of experience. With the orange crisis, Santana eradicated 15 thousand citrus trees and started planting macadamia nuts. "Nobody really knew the nuts, but I do not regret my decision in spite of the current dollar weakness" he says. "A macadamia nut tree begins production in 8 years but it lasts for 60 years," he says.
The oldest tree in Santana’s farm ‘Fazendinha Belo Horizonte’ is 15 years old and the youngest is only 8. He cultivates 7 thousand trees in 34 acres. The harvest this year yielded 60 tonnes of nuts-in-shell, with 15 tons of nuts (25%) to the industry – which is paid by the kernel. In 2008, the percentage was 22% (national average), while Hawaii has productivity of 26% and Australia between 30% and 31%.
"It’s good," says Daniel Ramiro, director of the ‘Macadamia Fazendinha’ industry. The factory started three years ago. Before the dollar crisis, the harvest was sold to three industries of the sector – one in Dois Córregos (SP), one in Rio de Janeiro (RJ) and one in Espírito Santo (ES) – and exported. The crisis led to the emergence of small plants (around 15), as the one in Jaboticabal that only explores the domestic market.
"We kept focusing on the foreign market only," says Santana. "We were told that the domestic market would not absorb the production because the macadamia nut is expensive but we decided to make it happen since there are people who value the product and besides that, the nuts are rich in omega 3." The goal for 2010 is to plant 1,000 extra trees. The small factory will meet the domestic needs of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. In 2008, in addition to 40 tonnes of nuts-in-shell from Fazendinha farm, the factory bought 40 extra tonnes from other producers.
Santana has a grain dryer on the farm because the nuts must be harvested with 15% humidity in the fields, but delivered with 1.5% to the industry. Nothing is lost from its three layers: the kernel (edible), the bark (used in the drying furnace and as a substrate to protect the seedlings) and carpel (outer layer, which, mixed with manure, turns into natural compost, used in the orchard). Half of the nut-in-shell means half in carpel. “And there still is some shell left”.
Researchers are testing nutrition
Tests with fertilization and pest control to find Brazilian technology for orchard management.
The QueenNut in Dois Córregos city, is a macadamia nuts company in Brazil It opened in 1993 and exports 90% of processing, or 160 tons/year to Europe, North America, UAE, Israel, China and Japan "The Brazilian farmer is not capitalized and it takes at least ten years of investment to have a return," says the owner of the company, Maria Teresa Egreja Camargo. "The low productivity is a problem to be solved."
The QueenNut cultivates 300 hectares of macadamia nuts (about 65 thousand trees), and sells its plants. Around 200 to 250 trees can be planted in one hectare. The company’s agricultural manager, Leonardo Moriya, points out that the species needs the average annual temperature of 25ºC "And below 15ºC during winter to have floral stimulus." São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, South of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Mato Grosso and North of Paraná have orchards.
Worldwide, the production of nuts is 100 thousand tonnes of nuts-in-shell. Australia leads (with 37 thousand tons), followed by South Africa (26 thousand tons) and Hawaii (20 thousand tons). The low productivity in Brazil is notorious, compared to Hawaii, which produces 20 thousand tons in 6 hectares, or a thousand acres less.
To change this situation, technicians and researchers from São Paulo organized a technical group – supported by the São Paulo State Agribusiness Technology Agency (APTA) of the State Department of Agriculture – to develop a culture of macadamia nuts in Brazil.
In the Fazendinha farm, Jaboticabal, researchers Marcos José Eduardo Perdoná and Eduardo Suguino are conducting two experiments focused on plant nutrition. 36 areas were divided into two orchards. In one of them, fertilization is split five times a year. In another area, four times a year. The default is three times a year. "We’re testing to see the outcome," says Perdoná. "We need research, because we only have information from Australia and Hawaii."
Pest and disease control is another concern. "One example is the aphid: should we kill it with insecticide or leave it, so the bee can pollinate the flowers?" wonders Perdoná.
How to avoid aborting 50% of the fruit during its pellet phase and increase productivity is another question. Moriya names other bothersome pests such as mites, bedbug, citrus bore and leafhoppers.
Perdoná says that grouping cultures with the macadamia nut is possible (distant 6 feet between plants and with 8 meters of street planning) such as coffee, cassava and maize. "The macadamia nut is a good alternative to coffee afforestation."
Oil producing is not rewarding
The macadamia nut is native to Australia and was discovered in the late 19th century. The crop began in Hawaii in the 1930’s, period in which the first seedling of the plant reached Brazil where research started by the IAC-APTA, in Campinas (SP) during the following decade. The first commercial plantations emerged in the 1970’s, in São Sebastião da Grama (SP) and Poços de Caldas (MG), and are still active.
Macadamia’s byproduct is oil used in cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Between 3% and 5% of the nut production not accepted by the market (broken or small) become oil. "It takes 3 kilos of nuts to produce one liter of oil, with a ridiculous price," says the director of QueenNut and the Brazilian Association of Macadamia Nut (ABM), Pedro Toledo Piza. He compares: the nut for consumption costs U$ 8/kilo, the oil is only worth U$0.50/kilo.
Ten varieties are produced here, with 40% nationalized by the IAC, based on genetic material from Hawaii, and 60% from Australia and Hawaii.