In The Spotlight - Northern Rivers
In Focus – McGrath Rural and Livestock Newsletter, February
This month, we sat down with Bill Johnston, rural specialist at McGrath Alstonville | Ballina | Lennox Head, to hear what’s happening in the verdant hills behind Byron Bay.
When Mount Warning erupted an estimated 23 million years ago, it created a rich landscape of volcanic soil stretching more than 6,000 square kilometres around it. Alongside plentiful rainfall, the Tweed Valley landmark has been responsible for the lush green hills spreading from the north of the Gold Coast to the tip of the Clarence Valley.
Mount Warning also turned the hills between Byron Bay and Lismore into Australia’s premier macadamia farming destination, according to McGrath’s Bill Johnston. Johnston, a specialist in macadamia farm sales, said the industry had boomed over the last decade, in part from Asian markets’ surging demand for the delicacy.
“Seventy percent of farmland between Byron Bay and Lismore would be macadamia farms,” said Johnston.
“We’re in a sub-tropical environment with red volcanic soil. In previous times, the region has been used for livestock and cane farming but for most of the last half a century it’s been one of the most productive macadamia areas in the country and throughout the world.”
Macadamia farms have been attracting interest from superannuation funds and investment houses because of their ability to produce high tonnage volumes. Harvesting typically runs between March and September.
“Operators of the purely commercial farms have the resources and knowledge behind them to generate up to four tonnes of nut per hectare, which makes it one of the most productive sectors of agriculture,” said Johnston.
The macadamia industry hasn’t been immune to global economic challenges – fuel costs, worker shortages, and trade tensions with China. However, the proven longevity of the local market underpinned continued interest, Johnston said.
Last year, Johnston sold a 250-acre property at Eureka in one of the largest macadamia farm deals in the area to date. Boasting 16,000 trees across approximately 200 acres, three machinery sheds, and two large dams, the property sold for $9.5m to a global agribusiness.
But interest in macadamia farming hasn’t been restricted to commercial operators.
As COVID-19 enabled the chance to work remotely, tree-change locations up and down the NSW coast have been exposed to increased competition. Johnston said the idea of a small, manageable macadamia orchard on a rural lifestyle property was attractive for buyers relocating from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
“Lifestyle properties ranging from 5 to 100 acres in size around the Byron hinterland without any agricultural income, are in high demand from buyers all over the world as these properties represent the ultimate rural lifestyle. They’re still so close to the pristine beaches, trendy towns and everything else that this stunning Northern Rivers region has to offer.
“Not everyone wants a second income, but when properties come with a small number of (macadamia) trees that can be manageable, it’s a nice little hobby that can earn some extra money for owners.”