South Africa’s Green Farms Nut Company (GFNC) has launched the world’s largest macadamia processing facility in White River, Mpumalanga.

This multi-million Rand agri-processing development is the single largest investment into the macadamia industry on the African continent with the first two phases completed in time for this year’s macadamia harvest which starts each year in March and ending in November.

The national crop is expected to increase from 48 000 tons processed last year to 54 000 tons this year.

At the launch General Manager of the company, Alex Whyte said the industry projected a 40% increase of nut-in-shell (NIS) from 38 500 tons in 2016 to 64 800 tons by 2020.

“To absorb this astronomic supply increase our approach now rests on three key pillars; processing capacity, sophisticated product marketing and value-add, all of which are inextricably linked to being able to sell at (the) currently buoyant prices in future,” White said.

He said the massive infrastructure development demonstrated the company’s long term view for a sustainable industry through creating value-add and marketing capability domestically, as opposed to outsourcing processing to China, for example.

“This approach will ensure we remain price givers rather than price takers in years to come,” Whyte said.

As the industry’s longest serving processing businesses together with it’s partner marketing company, Green & Gold (the globe’s largest supplier of macadamias) the investment he said represented confidence in, and commitment to, a sustainable macadamia sector.

“We are invested for the long run. We will cultivate our business alongside growth in the crop and based on (the) historic and ongoing exponential (tree) planting, our view is that it is imperative to increase processing capacity to ensure long term viability for the industry and our farmers.”

Increasing processing capacity

According to the Southern African Macadamia Growers Association (SAMAC), new macadamia tree planting in South Africa has tripled in the last four years from 1 250ha in 2013 to 3870ha in 2016, with planting almost doubling between 2015 and 2016 from 2000ha to 3 870ha. Currently there are 28 000ha of established macadamia orchards with the largest growing region being Mpumalanga followed by Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.

This aggressive planting strategy is projected to continue, hence GFNC’s investment in the mega factory.

At the launch key components of the new facility included:

  • Processing capacity increased by 40% in phase one from 5 500 tons to 8 000 tons NIS (this will be increased to 25000 tons in phase two),
  • Factory size has been increased to 10 000m² from the current 3 000m² with state of the art technology and latest sterilisation techniques,
  • The installation of world class optical sorters that will drive efficiency through increased processing speed,
  • Expanded value-add capabilities to better serve customers and latest techniques to ensure food safety,
  • Reduced water usage through improved technology,
  • Electricity cost saving by burning macadamia nut shell by-product to dry NIS and kernel nuts,
  • Additional 250 tons drying bin storage capability, totalling 800 tons, and
  • Increased facility efficiencies ensuring processing fees are kept to a minimum.

The company has the largest processing capability in the country with factories in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

The Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal factories were recently expanded, and together the operation has 12 200 m² under roof at present.

Whyte said macadamia production was not only growing exponentially but from a small base. As a result it meant the environment was fast changing and in the process of maturing.

“A fragmented processing industry is unlikely to deliver the best economies and ultimately robust prices back to farmers. Being aware of how the landscape may look in future is key. Also food safety standards are becoming more stringent and macadamia buyers are demanding sophisticated techniques and technologies from processors,” he said.

Future plans

Through its marketing business, Green & Gold Nuts, the company is confident of achieving the right mix in a three tiered strategic approach.

With China reporting extensive domestic plantings, a balanced marketing NIS and kernel approach across the globe was continually front of mind, Whyte said.

The company, he said, was looking into value-add activities such as retail packing, roasting and macadamia oil to ensure relevance in their agri-processing business evolution.

“Building direct relationships, cutting out the middle-man, creating market stability and security to ideally deliver higher prices for our farmers are our driver. We are first to market in making sure we’re ready for the anticipated bumper crop in 2018 and our doors are always open to all growers,” said Whyte.

Completion of phase two of the project is estimated by 2020, with key components including total processing capacity upwards of 25 000 tons dry NIS, further technology and equipment upgrades as well as increased storage and warehousing.

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