Scientists aim to breed easier-to-crack macadamias with more nut, less shell | Ralph-Lauren

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If you’ve ever risked your fingers while hitting a macadamia with a hammer, you’ll know that the nuts can be tough to crack, yielding a small but tasty kernel inside.

Some of Australia’s brightest horticultural minds are trying to change that by selectively breeding for macadamias with thinner shells, larger kernels and tougher exterior husks to protect the nuts from birds and insects.

In the Queensland Alliance for Food and Agriculture’s nut lab on the Sunshine Coast, Professor Bruce Topp and his team have set a cracking pace, studying nuts from a selection of 5,000 trees.

Cracked nuts in a track which has a nut cracker built into it. It has a metal arm.
Larger kernels would result in less waste in macadamia production.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Professor Topp, the leader of Australia’s macadamia breeding program, explained that just 33 per cent of the average nut is edible.

“We’re looking at selecting for increased kernel recovery.”

Green macadamia nuts covered by a bag.
Borer insects were introduced to this bag to see how well the husk would withstand them.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Borers have been released into bags to test the performance of the green husks that protect the nut and kernel on macadamia trees.

“Some varieties have a thicker husk and some have have a harder husk and so one of the things that we’re looking at is, can we increase the kernel recovery, but get protection for the kernel by having thicker or harder husks?” the University of Queensland scientist explained.

Green macadamia nuts growing on a tree.
The goal is to breed a macadamia which produces nuts with thick husks, thin shells and large kernels.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Demand outstripping supply

Australian Macadamia Society CEO Jolyon Burnett said despite the impact of COVID-19 on service industries and duty-free sales at airports, demand for macadamias remained as strong as ever.

“People still cannot get enough macadamia nuts, whether that’s here in Australia or one of the 44 countries around the world that we export to,” Mr Burnett said.

A man stands smiling in a macadamia orchard.
Jolyon Burnett says demand for macadamias continues to grow in the 44 countries Australia exports to.(Supplied: Australian Macadamia Society)

“Every year there are new product developments that include macadamias, they are one of the few products available in over seven aisles of the supermarkets.

In 2019, growers were paid an average price of $5.81 per kilogram of nut in shell and those returns are expected to increase to $6.00 or higher when figures are tallied for last year.

Unshelled nuts in a bucket.
It will take years to breed macadamias with thin but tough shells that withstand insects and cockatoos.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

Professor Topp collaborates with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and the University of the Sunshine Coast on projects which are funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia.

Its research and development manager, Vino Rajadran, said the $2.2 million breeding program used the best genetics available to generate the best returns for growers.

“What we’re working with is a crop that hasn’t really been bred for agriculture, so we’re at the start of the journey.

“I’m very excited to see where we end up with the future of this breeding program.”



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