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Tree nuts

Introduction

  • The tree nut industry worldwide is growing on the back of improved lifestyles and a desire to eat more healthily.
  • South Africa has the climate and the ecology to become a recognised producer and value added processor of most nuts. The harvest time in the southern hemisphere is ideally suited too, just before the main global market demand at Christmas.
  • The predominant tree nut crops grown in South Africa are macadamias and pecans. South Africa competes with Australia as the world’s largest exporter of macadamia nuts (see separate page).
  • Macadamia nuts and pecans are important crops for the country. They both have high-growth potential while also being labour intensive.

Almonds

  • California (USA) is world’s largest producer of almonds. With its ideal growing conditions, including a mild climate, rich soil, and abundant sunshine, this area produces about 80% of the global almond supply, exporting to nearly 90 countries. The website of the Almond Board of California, is a wealth of information regarding almonds. Visit www.almonds.com.
  • An IDC study posited the idea that SADC countries were ideally positioned to take advantage of the absence of almond producers in the region (Bezuidenhout, 2016), as did agricultural economist Wessel Lemmer (Lemmer, 2017). Most almonds are imported from the USA. South Africa has hitherto not possessed the processing capacity nor the volume of production to turn this into an industry but the establishment of an almond-processing facility in Robertson looks to change this (Kriel, 2019).
  • The top producers of almonds are the US and Australia (USDA, 2023). They are also the top exporters. The EU, India and China are the top importers (USDA, 2023). Almonds are one of six sectors the US has previously identified for exports in South Africa (see Agribook blog, 2020).

Further reading

Brazil nuts

Interestingly, Montagu Dried Fruit and Nuts imports its Brazil nuts from Bolivia (Erasmus, 2013). Read about this nut on the Nutrition and You website at www.nutrition-and-you.com/brazil-nuts.html.

Cashew nuts

Cashew trees are indigenous to the coastal dunes of northeastern Brazil. A plant can grow from seed to seed producer within three years.

Advantageous properties of Cashew trees:

  • Produce cashew nuts.
  • The cashew apple juice can be turned to wine and the wine distilled for brandy.
  • They make good shade trees because of having evergreen leaves and a wide-spreading canopy.
  • Sap with insecticidal properties can be tapped from the trunks. It can also be used as a varnish.
  • They can be cut down for firewood and charcoal.

Value-added opportunities:

In addition to the cashew kernel, which constitutes only 20% of the nut, various other opportunities exist:

  • Cashew butter.
  • A juice rich in vitamin C can also be extracted from the cashew apple, a false fruit produced about the nut.
  • Even the poisonous cashew nut shell liquid can be converted into useful products, including epoxies, ship varnishes and friction dust for the car brake linings, meaning the potential for downstream products is extensive.
Source: Cultivating Cashew Nuts Info Pak at www.dalrrd.gov.za.

 

Further reading

Chestnuts

The European or Spanish Chestnut grows into a large stately tree which when mature can carry hundreds of kilograms of nuts. They can grow about 12m x 12m and are best suited to a cool climate. They thrive in deep loamy soils and as they flower later in spring, frosts are generally not a problem. A well composted, well drained soil is ideal. Chestnuts, unlike hazelnuts, are partially self fertile but will be more productive if pollinated by another variety. Wind pollination is the main cross pollination method. Their separate male and female flowers open in November. The male flowers are on long yellow catkins the insignificant female flowers form at the base.

Source: www.stonemans.com.au/attachments/article/96/Nuts.pdf 

 

Further reading

Coconuts

The coconut is grown in almost all tropical countries, on a large or small scale, and is put to many uses, as every part of the plant is useful.

The fruit is eaten, but its chief use is in the production of copra, which is the dried white kernel. This is either treated locally or exported for the extraction of oil, the resulting presscake being fed to cattle. Coconut oil is used for making cooking oil and margarine. The poorer quality is used for soap, candles, etc. The fibre of the husks, known as coir, is used to make rope, brushes, sacks, matting and bedding. The husks are used for fuel where wood is scare. Green coconuts are often sold as a fresh and cooling drink. Coconut milk is a sterile food for babies. Huts can be built using the leaves and trunks. Coconut palms can be incorporated into the activities of farmers, and can be grown around homesteads in the subtropical and coastal areas of South Africa.

Bearing palms at Burgers Hall Research Station and in Northern KwaZulu-Natal are evidence that selected clones will bear fruit in areas where bananas grow. Other role players include Coconathi (find contact details under the role players heading further down this page).

Hazelnuts

Full information on hazelnuts is available on www.hazelnuts.org.au, website of the Hazelnut Growers Association (Australian).

Hazelnuts are deciduous, requiring a cool winter to provide a sufficient chill to break the dormancy of the flowering and vegetative buds. This crop is best suited to the cooler, southern parts of Australia and the ranges, where summers are not excessively hot. An average annual rainfall of over 900mm is desirable, with supplementary irrigation to overcome moisture deficits in the years of below average rainfall.

Source: www.hazelnuts.org.au, www.stonemans.com.au 

 

Further reading

Macadamia nuts

Pecan nuts

  • The pecan nut originated in the USA and is related to the well-known walnut which is cultivated in temperate regions. Mexico (52%) and the US (39%) are the largest producers. South Africa is the world’s third largest producer accounting for 6% of global production (BFAP, 2022).
  • Pecan trees flourish in South Africa, but are primarily produced in the Northern Cape around towns like Upington, Prieska, Douglas and Hartswater, (Pecan South Magazine, 2018, as cited by BFAP, 2022).
  • The pecan nut sector has grown from R350 million in 2012 to R1.5 billion in 2021, an average annual nominal Gross Producer Value (GPV) growth of 19%, and an annual volume growth of 11.6%, on average, over the same period (BFAP, 2022). Considering the lag between planting and production, these industries could well double over the next 10 years (BFAP, 2022).
  • Pecan nuts are nutritious, and rich in protein, zinc, vitamins and carbohydrates. They also have cholesterol-lowering properties, and the trees produce strong timber for furniture and flooring.
  • Pecan-nut trees grow very fast and become very tall unless growth is controlled. They thrive in valleys and along rivers where winters are cold and frost occurs.
  • They are “alternate bearing”, meaning that a large crop is produced the one year, followed by a less impressive one the next. The average yield is 1,5 tons a ha (the optimum yield in the Orange River area is about 3 tons per ha!)
  • Commercial cultivars are Ukulinga, Barton, Moore (Bester), Choctaw, Wichita. The latter two cultivars are not recommended for areas with high rainfall and humidity, as scab could be a problem. Find cultivar information at www.sappa.za.org.
  • For a farm with a reliable source of water and a favourable climate, pecans are a good irrigation crop to consider.

South Africa: imports and exports

  • South Africa is a net exporter of pecan nuts. Over 93% of exports go out as nut-inshell (NIS), (SAPPA, 2022). Find export standards at www.sappa.za.org.
Sources: South African Pecan Producers Association (SAPPA)

Further reading

Pistachios

  • Pistachios are deciduous trees averaging about 3 metres in height and 5 metres in width. Pistachios need short, cold winters, and long, hot summers. The Pistachio is not a fussy tree and can grow in poor soil. However, better soil ensures better quality and a higher quantity of nut production and makes the trees easier to manage. They should start producing nuts during their sixth year.
  • Fertiliser plays a very important role and accounts for the bulk of production costs. Nitrogen, zinc and boron are amongst of the elements needed.
  • Once trees are large enough, the Orchards require minimal management, as opposed to the highly intensive management required during the first five years of their lives. A tree should produce 10 kg. saleable nuts at its peak, which will be reached after 10 to 15 years.
  • The USA, Turkey, Iran and Syria are the largest producers of Pistachios. The USA and Iran are the top exporters; EU and China are the top importers (USDA, 2023). Some 150 tons of Pistachios are imported into South Africa annually for packaging under local brand names. Does this suggest an opportunity for South African farmers?

 

Further reading

Walnuts

China and the USA are the most significant growers of walnuts.  The top exporters are the USA and China (USDA, 2023). A limitation in South Africa has been the non-availability of plant material.

  • Walnuts are very large long lived trees which when fully mature can grow to 16m with a spread of 35 metres. They have similar climatic requirements to apples so need cold winters and dry summers. Climatic prerequisites for Walnut production include approximately 800 mm of irrigation water or rainfall per year, enough cold units, fertile soil with good drainage and temperatures not exceeding 34oC.
  • Walnuts have long tap roots so need fertile soils to perform well and good drainage is absolutely essential. Plant walnuts in winter into well prepared soil. The roots of the walnut exude a toxic substance which limits the planting near each tree.
  • Walnuts are partially self fertile but for reliable pollination and cropping two compatible varieties are needed. The male flowers are arranged in long catkins on last year’s wood while the female flowers develop on new shoots. The flowers are wind borne and in some seasons pollen production and female flower opening may not coincide.
  • Walnuts are enclosed in a fleshy green husk which splits when nuts mature.
  • Mechanical harvesting equipment is very expensive, and a requirement for extensive farming. However, harvesting can be even more cost-effective if done by hand on a smaller scale. Shake the tree to dislodge the nuts.
  • Wash the nuts to remove the tannins which can stain then dry them in the sun for a few days turning often. The nuts are dry when the kernels become brittle.
  • Walnuts are not a fresh product that has to be exported by plane immediately after harvesting. Nuts in the shell will keep in a dry place for a year or more, kernels must be refrigerated.
  • The main pest problems are birds whilst disease problems apart from root rot caused by waterlogged soils are the dreaded walnut blight which can cause black areas on leaves, shoots and young nuts, this may even shrivel the kernel and dieback may occur. Prevention is through spraying with a copper spray such as Kocide when the tree is dormant.
Source: www.stonemans.com.au/attachments/article/96/Nuts.pdf 

Further reading

International business environment

Almonds (31%), Walnuts (21%), cashews (17%), pistachios (14%) and Hazelnuts (12%) topped world tree nut production in 2019/20. Among the smaller nut crops were Pecans (3%)and Macadamias (1%) (SAMAC, 2021Statista 2021).

Find updates here:

 

South Africa: imports and exports

South Africa is a net exporter of macadamia and pecan nuts. It is a net importer of other tree nuts.

  • Find the Step-by-step export manual for exporters of South African processed fruits, vegetables and nuts compiled by the Directorate International Trade, Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD).

Local business environment

While macadamias and pecans are the main prominent tree nuts produced in South Africa, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts are also grown in small quantities (BFAP, 2022).

Limitations for tree nuts in South Africa are listed as (i) a lack of processing capacity and (ii) not enough nuts being produced “to supply the critical volume that would make investment in processing facilities viable” (Erasmus, 2013). Some processing capacity is in place for macadamias (see separate chapter), pecans and almonds. The opportunities are there but farmers remain cautious about investing in growing nuts when the processing capacity in the country is not in place.

The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) has tried to kick start several tree nut projects (not macadamias or pecans) with limited success.

The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) flagged macadamias and pecan nuts back in 2011 as “high-growth labour intensive industries”. Growth since them has been “phenomenal”. Find the latest Baseline at www.bfap.co.za.

The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands study The Current State of Fruit & Vegetable Agro-Processing in South Africa (2019) included a look at nuts.

For the newcomer

  • Tree nuts have strong demand and are a high value product. They can be an excellent way to spread farming risk, particularly in view of the export potential.
  • A cautionary note is that planning – financial planning in particular – is essential. A high cost is involved to establish tree nut orchards. There is no income until the trees begin to produce nuts, which takes several years (depending on the tree type). Once producing nuts, though, the trees supply nuts for decades.

With sufficient capital, the farmer can also mechanise operations.

 

Various grower guides are available at www.dalrrd.gov.za. Examples include: (i) Nuts: Cultivating cashew nuts (ii) Fruit: Cultivating pecan nuts.

 

From the ARC-Tropical and Subtropical Crops order the following: De Villiers, E.A. & Joubert, P.H. 2008. The Cultivation of Pecan Nuts. Mbombela: ARC-Tropical and Subtropical Crops. It is also available in Afrikaans as Verbouing van Pekanneute.

 

Macadamia and pecan nut production is covered in the publication “Fruit and nut production in KZN”, which can be downloaded at www.kzndard.gov.za/resource-centre

Role players

Note: Click to expand the headings below. To get a free listing on our website like the ones below, visit here for more information or place your order hereDisclaimer: The role player listings are not vetted by this website.

 

Further reference:

Research

  • Find the “Research” option on the SAPPA website.

Government

The National Development Plan singled out the nut sector as one of the smaller, labour- intensive industries with huge expansion and labour creation potential. The BFAP Baseline 2019 noted that pecans and macadamias were among those industries that had already expanded beyond the targets of the NDP (BFAP, 2019)!

  • Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development (DALRRD) (i) Directorate Marketing (ii) Directorate International Trade www.dalrrd.gov.za
  • Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) www.idc.co.za The IDC has been involved with several tree nut projects: a cashew farm in KwaZulu-Natal, a pistachio farm in Prieska and a walnut farm in Aliwal North.
  • National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) www.namc.co.za A statutory levy exists for macadamia and pecan nut growers
  • Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) www.ppecb.com

Nurseries

Suppliers of nuts

In addition to the companies listed above, supermarkets and retail stores like Woolworths and Pick and Pay also stock tree nuts.

Websites and publication

Find the references to websites earlier on this page.

  • There are several videos on growing tree nuts on YouTube. These are general, like “Top five most profitable nut trees to grow” and nut-specific e.g. “How pistachio nuts are harvested and processed”.
  • Various grower guides are available at the Department of Agriculture’s website, www.dalrrd.gov.za. Examples include: (i) Nuts: Cultivating cashew nuts (ii) Fruit: Cultivating pecan nuts.
  • From the ARC-Tropical and Subtropical Crops order the following: De Villiers, E.A. & Joubert, P.H. 2008. The Cultivation of Pecan Nuts. Mbombela: ARC-Tropical and Subtropical Crops. It is also available in Afrikaans as Verbouing van Pekanneute.
  • The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/30796 (28 July 2020) included an update on Coastal Cashews.
  • Nation in Conversation took a look at nuts, specifically almonds (2018, June 7). Find “Nasie in Gesprek kyk na neute en amandels” on YouTube.
  • The AgriSETA Assessment Guide Primary Agriculture “Monitor the establishment of a crop” includes orchard trees. Other relevant learner guides include “Harvesting agricultural crops”.
  • Find the many grower guides at www.growveg.co.za.

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