IT'S probably a driving hazard but I can't resist sticky-beaking at new rural developments as I cruise around the beautiful side roads of the North West on the way to a meeting or whatever.
So it was with great interest I noticed a sign on a property very close to me on Clerkes Plain Road: "Grove 41 degrees".
I knew it was a hazelnut grove, and made an appointment to see the owners and talk shop.
To prepare for this, and on your behalf, I did a bit of background research.
I was surprised to discover that the annual global production of hazelnuts is as much as 744,000 tonnes.
Turkey is the biggest producer, at 420,000t.
This isn't surprising, as hazelnuts originated there, and you will remember from a previous column that Turkey is in that magic latitude of 40 degrees.
More precisely, the northern quarter is at latitude 40 or above. This will increase the flavour of hazelnuts.
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Italy produces 121,000t, the USA a mere 35,000t, and as for Australia, it was vanishingly small at 170t in 2017.
Tasmania's contribution was a drop in the bucket. We were then importing more than 10 times as many (about 2000 tonnes), to satisfy demand.
However, Australian production could boom to 3000t by 2020, according to the RIRDC.
It's a profitable crop once it gets going - you have to wait six years to see a decent return but assuming a yield of about 2300kg/ha and a price of $6.50/kg, that's about $15,000/ha (gross).
That's for the nuts themselves. Hazelnuts also contain an oil which is extracted by cold pressing, so that's not too expensive, and the oil retails for $25 for 250ml ($100/litre).
This is because it is claimed to have at least 13 health benefits, the top four being:
- thwarting skin cancer
- healing acne/pimples/blackheads
- protection from damaging uv radiation
- skin hydration
The kernel oil content is about 65 per cent, so from 2300kg you would get about 1500kg oil/ha.
That would leave you with 800kg of meal to make into low GI flour.
The shells are used as fuel, so there is no waste.
I had a good chat with Hugh Williams, the owner. He told me the sign had been put up because the grove was now producing enough nuts to justify self-promotion.
He's a highly mechanised one-man show, and uses a Monchiero harvester. His was the first in Australia to be adapted to hazelnuts, rather than walnuts.
A fitter/mechanic by trade, he is working towards retiring from his "Lifestyle Caravan" retail business.
He is well aware of the importance of latitude in quality horticulture. I asked him why he had decided to get into hazelnut production.
"When we purchased the property 10 years ago there was already a small grove of young hazelnut trees - we looked into maximising our return, and these seemed a good option," he said.
"Hence the name, Grove 41 degrees - the latitude is ideally suited to growing high quality hazelnuts.
"Because of the low maintenance, we found that this is an ideal addition to our retirement plan.
"This has spurred us on - today's boutique farmer is tomorrow's commercial farmer and there is no multinational involvement in the business.
"This allows us to manage the business the way we want, grow the business the way we want and work on further investment into the future."
So there you have it.
I'll keep an eye on this and let you know in a year or so if Tasmanian hazelnuts have gone from being a drop in the bucket to taking the world by storm.