Ross Arnett’s farm, “Malua”, located on the Alstonville Plateau in northern New South Wales, has been in his family since 1872. The orchard is 10 hectares with 2,000 macadamia trees that range in age from 7 to 17 years. All fairly young when you consider that macadamia trees can live for more than 100 years.
Ross is happy to call himself a regenerative farmer and is constantly looking for kinder ways to grow macadamias. Key to this, Ross says, is preserving, protecting and building the soil. “Soil is the key to good farming practices,” he says. “I use compost to feed the soil biology and grow healthy soil, which leads to healthy trees. Healthy trees have fewer pest and disease problems. Better soils make better trees!”
Biodiversity is also very important at Malua. Ross promotes this by using cover crops and shrubs to provide habitat for insects and birds. This diversity keeps an orchard healthy. Around the perimeter of the orchard Ross has planted tall growing cover crops like sunflowers, sun hemp, and sorghum, mixed in with buckwheat and clovers.
“That height diversity is really good for attracting insects and birds,” says Ross. In the inter-rows between the trees, he grows lower-growing cover crops that bring beneficial insects into the orchard, including aphids, which then attract lady beetles, and lacewings, which are natural predators for common macadamia pests. “It’s a complex, natural arrangement that all works beautifully!” he says.
These practices help the property stay resilient in the face of drought. The summer of 2019/2020 produced some of the harshest drought conditions the property had ever seen. But despite that, his trees were very healthy and still flushing with flowers, even in those stressful conditions.
Ross is proud of the macadamias he grows. “I think everyone should eat more nuts – they’re so good for you! My favourite way to use macadamias is to take small macadamia pieces, roast them in the oven and then use them to sprinkle in salads, stir fries or desserts. Oh, and nothing beats homemade macadamia butter on sourdough!”