Sovereign Foods have had the privilege of working with Marco Bobbert and the crew at Wodonga Park since 2015. Wodonga Park is a biodynamic avocado and macadamia orchard situated on the Blackbutt Range, 35 minutes north of Crows Nest (or about 115km North West of Brisbane as the crow flies). From humble beginnings in 1987 as an orchard of 1500 macadamia trees on only 12 Ha, now comprises 52 Ha with some 7000 macadamia trees, 1200 avocado trees and 1000 lemons.
The orchard enjoys a subtropical climate and is located in a very fertile region with highly paramagnetic, volcanic soils, particularly well known for producing high-quality avocados. The Mt. Binga area annually receives around 1000mm of rainfall and has an elevation of 600m. The area surrounding the orchard is made up largely of state forests – either with endemic blackbutt, tallowwood, and rainforest patches or hoop pine plantations; leading to good quality groundwater. While Wodonga Park macadamias have been exported to Germany, France, Taiwan, Malaysia, The Netherlands and Japan, but are nearly all sold domestically.
Wodonga Park is managed biodynamically to increase soil fertility, stimulate soil life, raise fruit yield and quality, improve shelf-life and deter insects.
Marco was kind enough to share a bit of a glimpse on how they manage their farm
Plants are nourished by applications of rock dust, which is a quarry by-product that has seen an enormous increase in use recently. Boral Ltd. and Cemex Ltd. are two companies amongst a host of other quarries and value-adding agri-products companies that supply the rock dust/crusher dust. Unlike conventional applications of synthetic fertilisers, the dust provides long-term nutrition and as it has low water-solubility does not cause sudden and irreversible changes in plant physiology.
Chicken litter is also used to provide natural forms of phosphorous and organic matter. The chicken litter and rock dust are composted together with the micro-organisms in the chicken litter chelating the minerals in the rock dust to form a highly desirable fertiliser.
Fish emulsion, kelp, zinc sulphate, and borax are also used at appropriate times to enhance plant growth, health and crop yields.
The cost of fertilisers is significantly lower than that of most conventional orchards.
The area in which Wodonga Park is located has a relatively low incidence of attack from insects as the trees are in good health and generously fertilised with highly paramagnetic crusher dust and therefore not really prone to insect attack.
As the climate is cooler and the elevation (600m) higher than most macadamia nut producing areas (e.g. NSW North Coast) the shells are slightly thicker thereby naturally minimising damage by insects. The percentage of macadamias which are unsaleable (2003) was just 2.36% of the total harvest in a year when many other producers had problems with immature or damaged kernels.
Pest management involves the following strategies:
• The most important strategy is to have healthy plants as they are unattractive to insects. Plants grown with salt-based synthetic fertilisers have poor root development and an unhealthy canopy due to an osmotic imbalance and therefore attract insects and sustain damage. These trees show a high incidence of Phytophthora and other fungal & insect damage as water soluble fertilisers are taken up with irrigation water and not, as would normally be the case, through the roots releasing acids to make nutrients available. Wodonga Park trees are given highly mineralised fertilisers that do not create imbalances or stunt root development; release of beneficial insects to control populations of harmful species;
• application of yoghurt/molasses sprays to combat fungal attack and anthracnose (The latter can be a large economic burden if not properly managed);
• use of naturally occurring plant extracts (e.g. garlic) mixed with selected oils to control insects at critical times or when populations of insects necessitate its use;
• Biodynamic preparations such as silica-based 501 to control botrytis and fungal attack;
• Biodynamic potentised ash preparations to deter harmful insects;
• Prudent use of water and fertilisers to ensure that phytophthora does not become a problem (so far Wodonga Park is unaffected); and
• use of paramagnetic rock dust acts to deter insects.
Finally: Harvesting and Processing
The macadamia nuts are mechanically harvested de-husked on farm and stored in silos for drying until they are sent for cracking and packing.
Macadamias – mechanised units pick these without the need for manual picking. The property has facilities to dehusk, dry and store the macadamia nuts until transported for further processing in Alstonville.