Most people who get to meander through a Macadamia plantation will marvel at the closely packed trees and lush dense canopy of these attractive natives, but after having spent three days raking the nuts for harvest up-hill and down-dale through the farm, my perspective is a bit different.
Aching back aside I’ve spent three days looking at perhaps the more important element of the farm. The soil!
It has been a treat to have some casual work on a local family run Maca farm in the region. A taste of the industry and a closer look at a successful operation and a chance to chat with a well seasoned farmer.
The Byron Bay hinterland is the land of the Macadamia and the industry here is well established. These farms are in general well oiled machines, highly mechanised, and geared towards productivity. It comes as little shock then that as with all conventional, large scale industrial monocultures this agribusiness has some pretty serious effects on both the landscape and the environment.
What surprised me most about this particular farm was some pretty un-conventional practices and coming from my own ecological and organic farming framework I was pleased, inspired and intrigued to see a conventional farmer utilising a number of techniques to improve his soil, encourage ecology and reduce the need for chemical applications.
Huge steaming piles of mulch are laid out throughout the farm and the orchard floor has a thick mat of mulch and nut husks throughout. There are no bare roots or signs of significant erosion on the farm, the usual clear indicators of poor soil management. Here is a farmer who respects his dirt. I counted a wide variety of fruiting mushrooms and constantly as I raked nuts and leaves did I expose rich mats of Mycelium.
Also dotted about the farm were the tell-tale signatures of introduced parasitic wasps. Cardboard roles stapled to leaves containing ready to hatch eggs, a component of the reasonably new integrated pest management (IPM) practices to combat nut boring insect. Reports are that it is working well.
In newer sections of the farm where the younger trees have yet to shade out ground covers, varieties of native grasses and herbaceous weeds were left long to harbor and support a rich ecosystem for insects and birds. Regularly my thoughts were interrupted by a shrill call of Whip birds, Currawong and Kookaburra from the canopy.
Sections of rainforest have also been left established throughout the farm adding a further element to the dynamic ecology of the farm.
Talking with him about his farm practices you could quickly detect a humble respect for the land. Here is a farmer that is not simply driven to capitilize on every opportunity for yield, but a farmer with a son who also works the farm and a understanding for the need to protect the living assets for the future.
Ideas I shared about making compost from his husks and compost tea applications for foliar sprays and soil conditioners received nods of approval but his response was that it may well be too late to teach an old dog new tricks.
He has begun the journey of making his farm sustainable and as he enters his seventies he admits perhaps its high time someone else did the thinking. I marvel at the conviction of a farmer who goes the extra mile to spread mulch and care for his soil. There is no premium price for his nut for using less spray.
With little incentive other than satisfaction - I wondered how do we encourage and nourish these fringe transitional farmers. How do we reward their efforts and continue to stimulate change towards more sustainable practices? Is there a role here for young farmers to act as the mentors for change.
Future Feeders Team