Almonds Down Under

ABC's Richard Waycott and Bob Curtis recently participated in the 13th Australian Almond Conference and toured Aussie almond production areas in southern Australia. The conference was presented by the Almond Board of Australia, which hosted the tour.

Australia now ranks second to California globally in almond production. In 2009, the crop reached 80.5 million pounds, and with many acres coming into full bearing, the anticipated 2012 production is
175 million pounds. Current acreage is 72,150, managed by about 200 growers, but with only four processors (handlers). As a relatively young industry, 90% of the Australian almond acreage is on drip using fertigation; irrigation scheduling is state-of-the-art, varieties are planted in single rows, and pruning is minimal. The top varieties are Nonpareil, Carmel and Price.

Water is precious in Australia, so rain is collected from rooftops for household use. The Murray River is the lifeblood of almonds and serves as the sole source of water. Orchards are situated along the river, and irrigation water is pumped directly from it. Groundwater is too saline to use, and farther downstream, quality of river water is an issue. There is intense demand on the Murray water supply, and allocations to agriculture are decreasing. The expansion of almond acreage is constrained by available water, and any further plantings will displace existing acres of other crops, such as grapes or citrus.