The power of the pine nut for Australian agriculture – and the climate challenge

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Pine Nut

They’re highly nutritious, offer strong yields and could be one of the best performers under a changing Australian climate – and according to industry, the time is now to capitalise on the small but mighty pine nut.

The Australian Pine Nut Strategic RD&E Plan (2022-2032) | AgriFutures Australia has identified five research and development priorities for industry to implement over the next decade, in an effort to meet growing demand for the product.

At the top of the list is improving the output and productivity of Italian Stone Pine (species Pinus Pinea)

Currently, there are just two commercial-scale growers of Pinus pinea – the species of tree that produces the superior European pine nut – and Richard Zwar is one of them.

His pine nut farm commenced 22 years ago and, in that time, has seen slow, but steady, progress in the industry.

“I have 30,000 mature trees and another 120,000-seedlings planted, with a current world shortage of this quality nut,” Richard said.

“Our market is very much a boutique one but with strong demand, and we sell a recognised clean, green Australian product that doesn’t battle with the pest and disease issues that face overseas markets that grow them.”

He acknowledges that the major hurdle for the emerging industry is the timeframe from planting to production to yield.

“It’s approximately seven to 15 years before you get a reasonable crop, so there’s definitely work to be done around how to bring that first harvest forward,” Richard said.

“We know that it can be done by grafting the trees, but it’s a difficult process, so more attention on this piece of research is welcome.”

A perfect opportunity

AgriFutures Australia Manager Emerging Industries, Laura Skipworth said the success of other nut industries in Australia, such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamias, and chestnuts, provides a perfect opportunity to establish pine nuts as the next industry.

“There is a global demand for pine nuts and production in Europe is declining, so it’s an ideal time to be investing in the potential of this industry,” she said.

“The Plan is designed on a 10-year cycle, longer than the traditional five-year program, to account for the lead-time between pine plantation and yield, which can be considered a weakness for industry, but we know orchards can thrive in locations with marginal soils which limits the initial investment outlay.”

Richard Zwar said one successful way to counteract the long lead time to yield is a focus on diverse use of the land the trees can be grown on.

“The pine nut industry really offers a great opportunity for rotational cropping operations and can be integrated into lots of existing large scale cropping businesses,” he said.

“The tree itself could be introduced to wide rows to diversify income and could also be introduced to grazing enterprises as shade and shelter belts.

“On my farm I’ve been experimenting with growing trees in between native botanicals, with no negative impact on each other. The botanicals yield at 18 months, so you get a high value crop early on with limited concerns as both crops have similar climate needs and grow without irrigation or other requirements such as weed control.”

Environmental credentials

The Pinus pinea is also a known carbon sequester, with a huge canopy and root mass.

“With the flooding Australia has experienced over the past 18 months there’s definitely work to be done on a mitigation strategy around climate change and agroecology,” Richard said.

“If we can map and predict the carbon sequestration ability of these Pinus pinea trees it could offer some additional attraction to those considering going into the industry with the potential to earn carbon credits from growing the crop.

“Because of the long lead time on yield there needs to be a highlight on the other aspects of the trees such as the positive impact on our climate. It’s also a really hardy species that has survived and thrived through changing conditions to date.”

AgriFutures’ Laura Skipworth said pine nuts can also operate as a circular economy.

“After kernels are retrieved, pinecones can be used for oil extraction and the residue can be used to produce biochar, thereby leaving no/minimal waste products to deal with. This makes is a really environmentally conscious crop,” she said.

Other recommended steps in the RD&E plan are to launch an industry body, as well as develop a nut growing manual.

Grower Richard Zwar said both are vital steps for the future of the industry.

“The establishment of an Industry body is very important as it will give us the opportunity to engage with investors and entrepreneurs or corporations with a sustainable agriculture focus and that’s where the industry will shine,” he said.

“Because this tree is so hardy and long lived and offers benefits of agroforestry but also a high value crop over at least 120 years, which is a new for  Australia – it’s small right now but has great potential to make a large and important impact to the local agriculture sector and our environment.”

For more information about the AgriFutures Emerging Industries Program, visit Australian Pine Nut Strategic RD&E Plan (2022-2032) | AgriFutures Australia

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