Growing cashews - before you start
This is a checklist of the essential things you need to know before you start growing cashews.
On this page:
- An overview of the Australian cashew industry
- Know what you are getting into
- The farm you need
- The machinery you need
- The labour you need
- Marketing considerations
Cashew is an emerging industry in Australia and production is limited to the wet/dry tropics. Currently, there are only two commercial cashew plantations in Australia. One is near Dimbulah in northern Queensland and the other is at Wildman River near Darwin. Small areas are also planted near Katherine and at La Belle Downs Station, south-west of Darwin. However, virtually all of the cashews in the Australian market are imported.
There is continued interest by a few investors in expanding Australian production. It will be difficult for smaller investors to enter the industry until a processing plant is built in Australia.
Cashew is grown in several tropical countries. The major producers are Brazil, India, Vietnam, Tanzania and Mozambique. World supply is increasing at about 5% per year and is being matched by similar increases in demand, which is keeping prices stable.
Cashew production is relatively new in Australia and there is no established industry organisation, but prospective growers can work with local research organisations to develop their expertise in cashew production. Production systems overseas are based on low inputs and labour costs, but their growing techniques are not always applicable to Australian conditions.
If cashew production is to be your sole source of income, you will need to plant at least 200 ha of trees and be prepared to employ permanent staff. This approximate farm area is based on achieving satisfactory yields and the necessity to produce a large enough volume of nuts to be able to negotiate with overseas processors. A yield target of 2.8 tonnes of raw nuts per hectare with a kernel recovery of 30% is required to achieve satisfactory returns. At a plantation density of 200 trees per hectare, this is equivalent to a yield of 14 kg/tree of nut-in-shell (NIS).
Although yields in excess of this figure are regularly achieved from trial blocks, it takes good management to achieve the same result over a large plantation. In a large plantation you cannot manage the trees as intensively as in a research trial. Managing 40,000 trees is a challenge, even for experienced producers.
Prospective growers must plan for a fully mechanised operation and, most importantly, how they will market their crop. A thorough business plan is essential. The mechanical harvesting methods used for other tree nut crops, such as macadamia, are satisfactory for harvesting cashews. A local grower has developed postharvest handling systems, including a mechanical system for removing the cashew apple from the nut and cleaning the nuts.
Growers can market their crop as raw nut-in-shell or as kernels after shelling. However, there are currently no facilities for shelling raw nuts in Australia. Overseas processors are only interested in volumes of 100 tonnes or more of raw nuts, so only larger growers have the option of negotiating marketing or shelling arrangements with these processors. Smaller growers should make arrangements to sell or shell their crop through a major local grower.
The yields you can expect will vary with location and soil type, but Table 1 will give you an indication of what nut-in-shell yields you can expect. Higher early yields can be obtained with closer planting, but this is an experimental practise and is recommended for trial only.
|Tree age (years)||Low yield (kg NIS/tree)||Medium yield (kg NIS/tree)||High yield (kg NIS/tree)|
Cashews prefer deep, well drained, sandy textured soils with a watertable at least 1 m below the soil surface. They should not be grown on heavy clay soils. Because cashews are mechanically harvested, steep slopes and rocky soils should be avoided. The pH should be moderately acid to neutral (5.5 to 7.0) and alkaline soils over pH 8.0 should be avoided.
Cashews are a tropical species and the preferred production areas in Australia are north of 17°S latitude. This climatic zone can be described as the seasonally wet/dry tropics. The mean monthly temperature during the day should not drop below 10°C and there is no maximum temperature limit. Cashews can tolerate temperatures in excess of 40° C. Regardless of the maximum temperatures during the dry season, irrigation is required for sustained high yield.
The trees need a frost-free area with distinct wet and dry seasons. Flowering, nut set and harvest should all coincide with dry weather, which should last from four to six months. The crop is harvested between August and February, depending on locality.
Cashews can be grown on slight to moderate slopes of up to 12%, but growers should keep in mind that trees require extensive management, so machinery access is essential. In high rainfall areas good management is needed in the inter-row to minimise erosion risks on sloping land.
Protection from strong winds is necessary as cashew trees are susceptible to branches breaking and trees being uprooted. You may need to consider planting windbreaks. Try to use some native tree species, as they will encourage the establishment of natural predators of insect pests of cashews.
Cashews can be grown without irrigation, but for optimal yields and good quality kernels, irrigation is required.
During the dry season (about 32 weeks), mature trees will require 250-500 L per week. Supplementary irrigation may also be required during the wet season if rainfall is inadequate. Young trees require much less water, but will need to be irrigated every 7-14 days. You should allow for 3.5 megalitres (ML) of water per hectare to meet the trees irrigation needs.
Ideally, water should have an electrical conductivity of less than 0.8 deciSiemens per metre (dS/m) and Total Dissolved Ions (T.D.I.) of less than 600 mg/L. High iron levels can be a problem in drip irrigation systems. Be careful with drip irrigation if iron levels in the water exceed 0.1 ppm iron.
You will need this machinery in the first year for a 200 ha plantation:
- tractor 80 hp
- tractor 25 hp
- utility truck
- boom spray for herbicides
- spray mister (2000 L)
- machinery and maintenance sheds
- nursery and pruning equipment.
In the second or third year when trees begin to bear, you will need the following additional equipment for harvesting and processing the nuts:
- four trailers
- harvester (PTO type)
- two sweepers
- processing plant to grade and dry the nuts
- processing shed.
As the trees grow larger, you will need to buy additional harvesting equipment:
- two 80 hp tractors
- two trailers
- harvester (PTO type)
- two sweepers
- upgraded processing plant.
Hired labour, additional to the owner/operator, is required for daily farm operations and seasonal operations, such as harvesting, sweeping and cleaning. For a 200 ha cashew plantation the estimated labour requirement is two permanent staff, with up to six casual staff during harvesting and processing.
You must gain a close understanding of the international trade for cashews before deciding to plant them. You need to know how cashews are marketed and the kernel grade standards that apply. Talk to cashew traders and potential purchasers before you invest in cashew production.
It is vitally important that you plan how you will market your crop before you embark on cashew production. Even if you plant 200 ha, your first harvests will be small, yielding much less that 100 tonnes of raw nut. Overseas processors are interested in volumes of 100 tonnes or more of nut and they will not be interested in buying small volumes of nut from early harvests. Until you have more than 100 tonnes of raw nut, you need to consider selling your raw nut as nut-in-shell through a large local grower.
When you are producing sufficient nut, you have the option of selling your crop as raw nut-in-shell or as kernels after shelling. As there are no shelling plants in Australia you will need to negotiate with overseas processors to shell the raw nut if you wish to sell your crop as kernel. Kernel can be sold as raw unsalted nuts or further processed into confectionary products, including roasted and salted nuts.
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