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What makes a top-performing farm: Macadamia case study

Understanding why some macadamia farms are
able to achieve high yield and quality results year after year is important for improving
overall industry productivity. Industry benchmarking has revealed high variability
in productivity between farms and also between seasons for individual farms. Benchmarking allows us to take a closer look
at top performing farms to try and work out what they have in common that makes them so
successful. Now in its 11th year the benchmark project
has tracked individual farm performance over many seasons to identify consistent high performers. Top performing farms are those whose average
long-term productivity measured as saleable kernel per bearing hectare falls within the
top 25% of the benchmark sample. Because we are looking at the long-term average,
farms need to have submitted data for a minimum of four seasons, including the current year. A total of 48 top performing farms were identified
for the 2018 season. When we compare the difference in average
yield between the top performing farms and all other mature farms in the benchmark sample,
we can see the productivity gap between the two groups. Over the last ten years, the difference in
yield between the two groups was more than half a tonne of saleable kernel per hectare,
with top performing farms achieving 1.32 tonnes compared with an average of 0.77 tonnes for
all other mature farms. If we take the current average NIS price of
$5.80 per kg this is a difference of over $8,000 per hectare. If we were to look at the 5 highest producing
farms in the benchmark sample, which averaged nearly 5 tonnes of NIS per bearing hectare,
this equates to approximately twice the revenue per hectare of other mature farms. Like the broader benchmark sample, top performing
farms also experience seasonal yield fluctuations. There are also some interesting insights when
looking at expenditure trends of top performing farms. When looking at total costs per hectare, top
performing farms spent 24% more than all other farms that supplied cost of production data. When breaking those costs down further still,
top performing farms spent 30% more on both crop nutrition and crop protection. Even though costs per bearing hectare were
higher, their high productivity meant that their cost per tonne of saleable kernel were
actually 30% lower than other farms in the sample. This supports previous case studies, which
found that some farms with higher expenditure achieved higher productivity. Benchmarking also shows that top performing
farms consistently achieve a higher average saleable kernel recovery, approximately 2.5% higher. This means that these farms generally achieve
higher nut in shell prices each year through quality bonuses. A similar pattern was evident for reject kernel
recovery results. Contributing to this were lower levels of
insect damage, mould, discolouration and immaturity. So what are the key things that contribute
to the sustained high productivity of top performing farms? A recent survey has provided some useful insights. Number one was attention to detail – ensuring
timeliness and forward planning of tasks including pest management, nutrition and harvesting. Regular monitoring and observation were also
key components of this. Nutrition also rated highly with nearly all
respondents, emphasising the importance of a balanced program that supports both soil
and tree health. Most respondents achieved this through the
application of mulch, compost and both soil and foliar fertilisers. Another common thread in the survey was the
use of consultants to inform pest management and nutrition programs. Other management practices believed to contribute
to high productivity included canopy management, erosion control, effective spray coverage
and attending industry events to improve knowledge. The macadamia industry strategic investment
plan has set a target average of five tonnes of nut in shell per hectare by 2021. That’s approximately double the current
long-term benchmark average. However as we’ve seen there are farms within
the benchmark sample that are already achieving close to this target. While every farm is unique, it’s clear that
the top performing farms all share common approaches. These include planning, monitoring, observation
and effective timing. This was perhaps best summarised by one grower
who simply referred to it as ‘boots in the paddock’.

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