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9 July 2018: A group of northern NSW farmers has converted a $30,250 grant into a $1.5m investment in less than 12 months, and has projected a $50m investment over the next five years.

The floodplain growers are planning to convert their northern NSW floodplain farms into macadamia orchards.

The 12 farmers from the northern rivers region will redevelop more than 2000ha of low-lying coastal land, most of which was historically used for cane-growing.

They received assistance from the successful Farming Together program to plan the transition. The support from the Australian Government provided the group with experts on soil and drainage, orchard mapping/layout, farm management software and business management expertise.

Leading the work was project manager Robbie Commens who was formerly productivity development manager for the Australian Macadamia Society, and was named 2013 Horticulture Australia Young Leader of the Year for helping increase average per-hectare production by more than 15%.

Robbie said: “Moving into floodplain cultivation is new territory. There is no established best practice.”

The funds helped pay for mapping to track drainage patterns and consultancy work to help guide the farm conversions.

An important element of the project has been property-specific irrigation and drainage management plans using new technologies such as Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), a remote sensing method that uses pulsed laser to measure landforms.

The farmers have committed to earthworks, soil improvement and flood mitigation. They plan to spend more than $1.2m on irrigation infrastructure, while installation of GPS technology will cost more than $100,000.

Robbie said: “We needed to understand the key limitations, both internal and external, along with growers’ strategic goals and the path to achieve them within the limitations in a safe and sustainable manner.”

The project was also supported by the Northern Rivers RDA, the Australian Macadamia Society and the NSW DPI.

Farming Together program director Lorraine Gordon said: “This is a wonderfully adaptive project, working collaboratively and utilising new technologies. The commitment of this grower group is something Farming Together is proud to support.”

PLUS: An free open day will be held at a transitioning macadamia orchard in East Wardell from 1-4pm on July 21.  Salt Spray Farms will host the event, which includes a workshop and a range of information and machinery such as bulldozers, tractors and GPS-guided levelling buckets. Representatives from NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), the Australian Macadamia Society, Ballina Shire Council and Ozfish will also attend the event with information. There will be a short bus tour through the property and the native vegetation riparian areas.  There will be a free BBQ as well as free jumping castle and face painting.

Transitional macadamia farm field day, end of Owens Lane, East Wardell, 1-4pm, July 21. RSVP to Robbie Commens on 0429 553 659, or email robbie@2te.com.au

Pictured: (L to R) Transitional macadamia growers Graham and Fiona Grant from Wardell with neighbour Robbie Commens. The Grants are putting 20ha under macadamias initially. They are also running a hydroponics enterprise, growing leafy greens Asian greens and kale. “We wanted to generate a second revenue stream,” said Graham.