Almonds are well known and used extensively in Australia, mainly as a fresh edible nut. The industry began in South Australia but in the past 30 years, it has expanded into Victoria and NSW. The industry has shown an annual growth rate in the order of 10% with production having reached 7,200 tonnes in 1998. This growth is attributed to the increase in the number of trees and the average tree productivity. The gross value of almond production in 1998 is estimated at $42 million (farm gate price).
Australia is a very minor producer in terms of world production. The USA dominates the scene producing 37% of the world's almond production of 1.3 million tonnes (in shell). Australia produces less than 1% of this. Australia both imports and exports almonds, the imports tending to be the lower grade quality nuts whilst our exports are higher quality.
There are two main production groups - the smaller growers based in the traditional growing areas around Adelaide and the newer larger growers in the Riverland (SA) and Sunraysia (Vic) regions.
The Australian almond industry is based predominantly in South Australia, north-western Victoria and southern New South Wales. The Australian Almond Growers of Australia Incorporated is the peak industry body, based in Berri, South Australia.
Like all nut trees, almonds need deep well drained soils. They are very susceptible to waterlogging and they develop root rots that usually kill the trees. The preferred climate is one with relatively mild winters with no severe spring frosts and warm dry summers. Irrigation is essential to get an economic return although the trees are quite drought resistant. The annual water requirement is about 850-1000 mm.
Almonds are usually planted on a 6m x 6m grid to give a density of about 250 trees/ha. The layout of the plantation needs careful planning as you need to plant a variety of different species to ensure you get cross pollination. The usual recommendation is to use three varieties with the main variety being planted every second row. The other two varieties should be an early blooming one (compared to the main variety) and a later blooming variety. These are planted as alternate pollinator rows to ensure that early and late blooming trees are all pollinated.
There are quite a number of varieties to select from, such as Nonpareil, Carmel, Mission, Fritz and Chellaston. The almond varieties are classified into groups such as papershells, softshells and hardshells. Prospective growers need to seek expert advice on variety selection and orchard layout.
Almonds require regular fertilising and a soil analysis will determine the amounts and types of fertiliser needed. They are particularly susceptible to Zinc deficiency and in all the major growing areas, zinc levels are borderline or deficient so you need regular leaf analysis to ensure the trees don't suffer from zinc deficiency.
Hazelnuts are important in almond orchards. They depend on cross-pollination to set the nuts. Wind pollination is negligible in almonds so there be a good population of bees to do the cross pollination and hives are usually distributed throughout the orchard.
There are a number of important pests and diseases such as Bryoba mite, Hull rot (a fungus), Crown gall, Shothole and Rust. Birds are a major problem in all almond growing areas.
Harvesting is carried out in February and March. The traditional method is by knocking the nuts off by hand and collecting them. However the newer, larger plantations are using mechanical pickers. Good yields are about 1.5/ha with top crops going up to 2.5 t/ha.
The Almond industry is far more developed than the other nut industries in that there are well established companies such as Almondco, Riverland Almonds and Select Harvests Ltd which market much of the Australian crop. Some producers have developed their own local markets. The almonds can either be sold in the shell or as a kernel (i.e. de-shelled). Contractors usually do the hulling and cracking of almonds. There are a number of these plants in all major production areas and the processing is carried out under contract.
As mentioned before, Australia both imports and exports almonds. We import the lower quality small kernel almonds. Our exports are targeted at the high quality markets. With current costs of production, it is extremely difficult for the Australian producers to compete against the low quality low prices imports.
Establishment costs of an almond orchard can be quite high, being $10-15,000/ha.
Commercial grower kits are available from the Australian Almond Growers Association.
Organisations and contacts
The Almond Board of Australia
9 William Street
PO Box 2246 BERRI SA 5343
Ph: +61 8 8582 2055
Fax: +61 8 8582 3503
PO Box 1506
Loxton, SA 5333
Phone. 08 8584 6333 Fax. 08 0504 7744
Select Harvests Ltd
PO Box 623
Northcote, Vic 3070
Phone. 03 9489 3554 Fax. 03 9489 3588
Some useful information sheets:
- Scab and freckle of stone fruit, Notes Series No AG0154 - W.S. Washington, Knoxfield
- Peach leaf curl, Notes Series No AG0160 -W.S. Washington, Knoxfield
- Verticillium wilt of deciduous fruit trees, Notes Series No. AG0162 - W.S. Washington, Knoxfield
- Honeybee pollination of fruit tree crops, Notes Series No AG0092 - Russell Goodman, Knoxfield
- Birds in fruit crops, Notes Series No FF0114 - Ian Temby, Flora & Fauna Statewide Programs
- Reducing cockatoo damage to fruit, nuts, grapes and flowers, Notes Series No LC0013 -Ian Temby, Flora & Fauna Program
Farm Diversification Information Service, Bendigo September 2002