Almond growers are harvesting a bumper crop in the Riverland as demand for their long life and healthy product skyrockets. As COVID-19 rocks markets globally, the local almond industry has been buoyed by ideal weather conditions, strong demand and machine harvesting being unaffected by social distancing rules.
The state’s leading nut producer Almondco is in the midst of seasonal harvest that started in February with 150 staff now working at the Riverland processing facility. Group sales and marketing manager Tim Jackson said last year was a record harvest in Australia and this season appeared to be matching figures of about 100,000 tonnes. “The quality has really stood up, unfortunately drought conditions aren’t good for many other crops but dry weather across the summer is ideal for our industry with less disease and insect pressures,” Jackson said.
Domestic sales are strong with Jackson saying supermarkets had reported huge demand for the longer shelf life almonds and products like almond meal as shoppers cooked more at home during social distancing.
Almondco exports 60 per cent of its product with its key market in China also growing after the Chinese trade war with the United States affected the world’s largest almond growing region in California. Jackson said China was beginning to lift restrictions and despite uncertainty about ships and container availability, exports looked positive with demand growing for almonds. It was unclear, at this stage, how the local industry would traverse its other more traditional export markets in Europe and India, with India this week extending its lockdown period.
“We are fortunate we have a shelf stable product, we will be doing our best to sell our whole crop this year but we don’t have as much time pressure as some other products,” he said. “We are also fortunate to have such a healthy product with such a good name for what it provides, people who can afford it are looking for shelf stable products to buy and with healthy benefits.” Almondco was created as a grower co-operative and counts more than 80 per cent of all almond growers in Australia as contributing members, it is now the second largest processor of almonds in Australia. The Riverland processing facility at Renmark handled about 28,000 tonnes of almonds last year, and Almondco also has a hulling and shelling facility at Lyrup in the Riverland and one across the South Australian border in the Riverina.
Jackson said work was also on track to create a world-class Renmark processing facility, the $28.55 million expansion was announced late last year. Plans include a new specialised sorting room with advanced electronic sorting equipment to double brown kernel processing along with full utilisation and treatment of the site’s wastewater. Work to build a new onsite shed was on schedule to be completed in May but Jackson said sourcing specialised equipment from Spain, one of the country’s hardest hit by COVID-19, was more uncertain. The expansion was expected to see Almondco processing more than 45,000 tonnes of almonds each year by 2026. Jackson said concerns in other industries about a shortage of orchard workers linked to new guidelines introduced for COVID-19 had not affected the almond industry.
Crops were harvested in South Australia using machine tree shaking and machine collection. In 2017-2018, the South Australian almond industry was worth $108 million in farm gate value. “The processing facility makes about 100 different almond products ranging from almond paste and almond meal to the more natural kernels of different sizes and varieties,” Jackson said.
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