Green Farms Nut Company training course leaders from left, bee experts, Inge Lotter, GFNC Chair Jill Whyte – who sat in on some of the training sessions, macadamia consultants and experts, Philip Lee and Stephen Schoeman.
Embracing the imperative to innovate in a pandemic year, Green Farms Nut Company (GFNC) worked with sector leaders to curate and deliver an unparalleled seven-week macadamia farming training programme late last year. The initiative expanded access to information, shared good agricultural practices, and created a platform for industry-leading discussion.
“The burgeoning industry is hungry for knowledge. Content was robust and relevant to potential new, emerging, and established growers. It was free, open to everyone (not only GFNC farmers), and feedback was immensely constructive, with calls for ongoing industry advisory and consultant engagement,” said project leader and host Barry Christie, group agricultural technical manager, GFNC.
More than 300 farmers participated from dominant growing regions, including all the major macadamia meccas in South Africa, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia. Working in collaboration with macadamia doyen Philip Lee, the two-hour sessions took place via Zoom on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
The course included 13 sessions, each dedicated to a specific topic, for example climatic requirements, industry overview, cultivars, crop management and financial aspects, as below:
- Origin and climatic requirements
- Industry and market overview
- Tree phenology
- Land preparation and orchard establishment
- Orchard floor management
- Nutrition and fertilisation
- Tree training and pruning
- Pests and diseases
- On-farm post-harvest handling
- Bonus session: cross-pollination: from theory to practice
“It was inspiring to be a part of interesting questions and active debate. Curiosity around sustainable farming was heartening, and because of high levels of demand, we structured a bonus session (that became the course highlight) to address in more detail how to protect bees and promote cross-pollination. Everyone learnt something, including adopting new technologies,” said Philip Lee, course presenter and owner of CompleteLee Nuts Consulting.
The bonus session titled “Macadamia cross-pollination: from theory to practice” was presented by Mark Penter, a researcher at the Agricultural Research Council in Nelspruit; Inge Lotter, chairperson of the Lowveld Beekeepers Association; and Stephan Schoeman, independent macadamia consultant.
Sustainable farming emerged as a theme. The global awakening to farming with nature to preserve our future is taking root. With cross-pollination, emphasis was also placed on integrated pest management, healthier soils and inter-crop planting.
“The course has been a brilliant learning experience. It was informative, practical, and comprehensive; addressing all you need to know to build and grow a successful macadamia operation that produces quality nuts. It is the best I have had yet! Thank you for your willing selflessness to impart knowledge – it will go a long way – and I look forward to the next sessions,” said Mandla Mooko, operations manager, Baleti Estate, Limpopo.
South Africa is already the world’s largest producer of macadamias. Core to GFNC’s philosophy is the genuine belief that industry inclusiveness and sharing will continue to support and grow global understanding that the country supplies the best quality, premium produce to the marketplace.
“It was thoroughly rewarding working on this project and I look forward to developing more in the future,” said Christie.
Company founder and current chair Jill Whyte attended most of the sessions, demonstrating commitment to investing into the grass roots of today for the tomorrow of the sector.
Course presenters included:
Sole proprietor of CompleteLee Nuts Consulting, Lee provides consulting services to a broad spectrum of macadamia producers worldwide. He draws on 40 years of experience in the horticulture sector in Southern Africa through a range of crops including tea, coffee, and macadamias. His previous positions include horticultural and technical manager at GFNC, and CEO of Royal Macadamia (Pty) Ltd.
He was awarded honorary life membership of the Southern African Macadamia Growers Association (SAMAC) in recognition of service excellence to the SA macadamia industry, including board member of SAMAC (1991 to 2008), chairman of SAMAC (1994 to 1996) and executive director of SAMAC (1997 to 2002).
As South African ambassador to the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC) from 2001 to 2007 he often presented the global macadamia report at INC Congress and chaired the organising committee for the first INC Congress ever held in Africa, in Cape Town, 2002. Lee has built an extensive network of friends and associates in the global macadamia and broader tree nut industries and has seen more than three million macadamia trees on more than 1000 properties on four continents.
Schoeman is a private consultant at Soetkalmoes Consulting and is regarded as one of the leading experts on macadamia globally. He has worked in the subtropical industry for more than two decades and is part of a group of consultants that helped develop and make use of artificially-intelligent software, called Agriwiz, a crop management tool.
Lotter is a beekeeper and owner of The Beeger Picture. She is also the chair of the Lowveld Beekeepers’ Association. She is passionate about nature and has been working with GFNC and SAMAC to protect bee populations through responsible and integrated pest management strategies.
Penter is a researcher at the Agricultural Research Council, Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops. He has done research on various aspects of macadamias, including cultivar and pollination trials, as well as post-harvest studies.