Passionate about walnuts

by Trudi Meyer

Trees have been grown on lifestyle blocks for a number of reasons including food production, shelter, shade, erosion prevention, aesthetic appeal or just for firewood.

Trees help improve water quality, provide shade, stabilise eroding slopes, filter sediments and nutrients from runoff and provide a financial return for nut crops or timber.

The secret to successful results is to match the tree to the purpose and the locality, and there is a lot of information out there to help you get the best outcome.

Walnut trees are dual purpose trees grown for food and also for timber and are very long living — more than 100 years.

In commercial orchards walnut trees are grown 7 to 10 metres apart and some trees have been planted in hedgerows.

It is essential to protect the young trees from rabbits and stock nibbling away, as sheep and cows, especially calves, will happily munch on a tree sapling and kill it. Shelter from strong winds will help the trees to grow strong and straight as whippy branches can break or twist in strong winds. Shaping and pruning is an essential task in the earlier years to set up a good frame and encourage growth. I am told that this can also be therapeutic.

Growing walnut trees for crop or timber production makes financial sense as the development costs for walnut orchards are reasonably high at the start and returns from crop (or timber) are slow in coming for a number of years.

From the age of about six years old, the trees will start to produce walnuts — a handful at first but up to two tonnes per ha (approx. 10kg/tree).

There are a large number of 10 acre blocks suitable for a walnut orchard. Planting walnut trees and harvesting the grass in between the rows for hay or silage will mean that you don’t have to look after animals and in 15-20 years will provide a retirement income.

It is quite feasible to establish a walnut orchard in the country while working in the city and doing the orchard work over the weekend, which would generally involve pruning (winter) and watering (summer). 

Once the orchard is coming into commercial production it could be a very profitable enterprise that still leaves enough time to do all the things you could not do during the busy working life. 

There is scope for large plantations of walnuts.

The operation can be completely mechanised and as such lends itself to large-scale production. With crop yields increasing over the coming years, financial viability is expected to improve year by year.

Demand for walnuts is growing. Just under 800t of walnut kernel (2,000t of walnuts in shell) were imported in 2015, up from about 500t a few years previously.

But the taste of fresh, New Zealand-grown walnuts is superior to the imported ones, and remember walnuts are considered a very healthy food.

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