Mac-nut growers can't find buyers
Hawaiian farmers have a bumper crop of the signature nuts -- but nowhere to sell it
Another bumper macadamia nut crop is expected this year, but Big Island farmers' biggest problem may be finding someone to buy Hawaii's signature nuts.
Too much yield: Macadamia nuts are grown by about 700 independent farmers in Hawaii. They worry they won't be able to sell this year's crop. - STEVE PARENTE / Associated Press
With only a handful of processors on the island and one of the biggest temporarily out of the market, hundreds of independent farmers are concerned.
Statewide, Hawaii nut orchards are projected to produce 60 million pounds this year, topping last year's crop and creating a potential glut of the local market. They also face increasing competition in export markets from what local farmers say are lower quality nuts grown in Australia and other countries.
MacFarms of Hawaii, which expects a bumper crop from its own nut orchard, cited last season's very large crop and costs associated with handling it when it sent a letter to mac-nut growers on June 7 saying that it would not be buying nuts from independent farmers.
"We have quite an inventory of nuts right now," MacFarms President Hilary Brown said. "Also, prices have dropped this year, demand has slowed and we are expecting a large crop this year. That said, if the situation changes, we might be back in the market."
In addition, the company has agreed to buy at least 5 million pounds of nuts next year from Hilo's ML Macadamia Orchards LP. But Brown said that deal was not the major factor in the decision.
ML President Dennis Simonis said Macadamia Orchards is considered the world's largest individual mac-nut farm, with more than 4,000 acres of trees.
Judy Magin, executive director of the Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association, said she has been seeking other processors to help the association's 100 members.
"It did surprise everyone, but people shouldn't panic," she said. "There are options. Some of the other big processors are telling us 'We need Hawaiian nuts.' "
Macadamia nuts are grown by between 650 and 700 independent farmers in Hawaii. Since trees were first planted in the 1940s, they have become one of the state's top crops. Mac nuts are a popular snack and are a gourmet addition to cookies, coffee, ice cream and other goodies.
Richard Schmitzler, president and owner of Hamakua Mac Nut Co. and an association board member, said his company still is buying mac nuts and will continue to support independent farmers.
"We are going to do everything we can to help these farmers," he said.
The bulk of U.S. mac-nut exports go to Japan, with most of the remainder to Canada, Korea, France, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.
"It's a lot more important to our economy than people realize," Schmitzler said.