Is there cash in cashews?

 Cashews Australia, which owns a 1,030 hectare property at Dimbulah in north Queensland, has planted 45,000 new trees in the last two years and plans to add another 20,000 or so later this year.

Company director Nick Baklis says he is confident the multi-million dollar expansion will pay off.

"If people want a nut that's grown under Australian conditions then I think they'll pay for it," he said.

"And supermarkets are screaming out for Australian-grown cashews."

Cashews are among the most popular nuts in Australia, with around 15,000 tonnes consumed annually.

Most are imported from Vietnam, one of the biggest producer of raw cashews in the world.

Vietnam also processes the nuts grown in north Queensland because there are not enough cashews yet to justify an on-site processing plant.

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But Cashews Australia consultant, Peter Shearer, says that will change in four years, when the new trees have matured.

"Our new trees are capable of producing the required 3.5 to 4 tonnes (per hectare), whereas previously the parent trees which we imported from everywhere were capable of producing a maximum of 1 tonne," he said.

Mr Shearer used to own the north Queensland plantation and has been at the forefront of the local cashew industry since the early 1990s.

He worked with CSIRO scientists to develop higher-yielding trees, so Australia could compete with the big cashew producing countries where labour is cheaper.

Extracting cashew kernels is a labour-intensive process, which includes removing a toxic liquid from inside the shell.

While much of the work is done manually in developing countries, Mr Shearer says for Australia to have a viable industry the harvesting and processing must be mechanised.

"Our mechanisation allows us with one man, one harvester, to pick up maybe 15 tonnes a day. By hand picking you couldn't achieve that with 50 people," he said.

Australia's only other major cashew property in the Northern Territory was sold last year and is now running cattle.

But Peter Shearer says the nut has the potential to be more than just a niche industry.

"I'm sure a lot are sitting back waiting for us to make a gigantic success or fail," he said

"If we can get a lot of the old tobacco growers and various people in this area to be interested in cashews then it can be a mainstream crop."


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