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  • South Africa: Record prices for macadamias as demand exceeds supply

    Jun 26th, 2017

    The macadamia market is very strong – so strong, in fact, that some exporters are referring to record prices received for in-shell nuts on the Chinese market, with kernel prices following the lead, and a shortage of nuts worldwide.Volume can’t meet growing demand, as yield is still affected due to the drought, but this is not a classic case of economic supply and demand, as Elsje Joubert, Subtrop technical manager for the Levubu/Soutpansberg area, points out. “Macadamias make up barely 1% of the global tree nut market, so per definition volumes are low on the world market. Prices are so good not because volumes are limited, but because demand for the nut is growing in so many markets and so many more consumers are aware of the health benefits of the macadamia nut.”

    “When Chinese buyers realised that volumes were low they started buying very aggressively,” says Nico van Schalkwyk of Golden Macadamias in the Mpumalanga Lowveld. “The Chinese market has brought about a floor price which makes it safer – as long as you have good quality nuts. The kernel market is a slower market but the kernel price also went up, particularly for whole kernels. However, we remain alert. The thing with macadamias is that the moment prices come down, it can snowball. As they say: ’up with the stairs, down with the elevator’.”He continues that they try to keep in-shell sales to half or below half of their total sales, but this year, with the level of in-shell prices, it’s very difficult to make the decision to sell kernels. That said, he emphasises that it is critical for the future of the macadamia industry to maintain kernel markets. Around 20% of their nuts have been shipped but all stock is spoken for.

    Macadamias can still find itself in a precarious situation, despite the price buoyancy. “When macadamia kernel prices rise out of proportion to other nuts, retailers start replacing the macadamia component in the nut basket with other nuts,” explains Johan Vos of Royal Macadamias in Levubu, Limpopo Province, which focuses on the kernel market where it sees a longterm future. It sends about half of its macadamia kernels to the USA, the other half mostly to the EU and some other markets like Japan. “It would’ve been nice if there were enough volume this year to meet demand,” Vos continues, “in order to maintain momentum in the market.”

    Stinkbug damage

    Some areas have seen lower stinkbug pressure, but reports vary according to production regions. It appears that Levubu has more stinkbug damage than Mpumalanga, with macadamia orchards in KwaZulu-Natal less prone to attack. Many macadamia farmers have been spraying hard against stinkbug.“The damage is less in general, but there are also fewer nuts, so relatively speaking the damage still has a noticeable impact,” says Elsje Joubert of Subtrop.

    Dr Schalk Schoeman of the Agricultural Research Council in Nelspruit agrees that the problem seems a bit better than last year, but he is worried by increasing evidence of a build-up of resistance to the chemicals employed among stinkbug populations. He fears that the effectiveness of the spraying programmes is also compromised by the unmanageable height of unpruned trees in some mature orchards.Population numbers of stinkbugs are down, due to drought, as the eggs and larvae are drought sensitive.The Southern African Macadamia Growers’ Association is currently re-evaluating its previous crop estimate.