Nut trees begin to turn a profit

FRUITS OF THEIR LABOUR: Alma and Ad van der Tol who planted their walnut trees in 1996.
FRUITS OF THEIR LABOUR: Alma and Ad van der Tol who planted their walnut trees in 1996.

A decade and a half of hard slog is about to provide years of profit for a walnut-growing couple in Wairarapa.

Ad and Alma van der Tol run Pinnacle Grove, a boutique walnut farm on 11.3 hectares in rural Carterton.

The couple, originally from the Netherlands, planted 9000 walnut trees at their Norfolk Rd property in 1996.

Since then they have spent every weekend tending the frost-susceptible trees to get them to maturity.

"There's been some setbacks," said Mr van der Tol, who works in information technology.

"There were some severe night frosts in the early 2000s and even last year the yields were down by about 75 per cent all over the country. You have to have a lot of tenacity."

The initial outlay was not modest either.

The trees and machinery cost $250,000, without factoring in the land and continuing maintenance.

A decade after planting the orchard, Pinnacle's first true crop came to fruition in 2006.

It proved to be "not much" but had steadily grown as the trees matured, Mr van der Tol said.

In 2010, the harvest produced six tonnes of nuts, and this year's crop - to be picked in May - is expected to top 10 tonnes.

Peak production will likely come 10 years from now, when the 900 trees start delivering 30 tonnes of walnuts each year.

"We're getting to a stage where the trees are mature and we get a decent crop from that," Mr van der Tol said.

"They say . . . if you want to provide for your children, then plant fruit and if you want to provide for your grandchildren, plant nuts."

The couple arrived in New Zealand with their three children in 1982 from the Netherlands.

Along with the orchard they have added a luxury homestay, which features views of the Tararua Range.

The company was currently breaking even but should be in profit in two to three years, Mr van der Tol said.

Mature walnut orchards could expect a return of $15,000 per hectare per year.

And if properly tended, they were the trees that kept on giving, with a productive life-span of more than 100 years, he said.

The walnuts feature on menus at Greytown's Main St Deli and Cafe Mirabelle in Carterton, as well as at several Wellington eateries.

During Wellington on a Plate, the Bolton Hotel's restaurant, Artisan, produced a chocolate and Pinnacle Grove walnut brownie.

"The Nut Store in Wellington were very proud of our product - they advertised it as very high quality and that is what we were looking for," Mr van der Tol said.

"And when you see chefs being interested in our product, it is really special."

While Pinnacle mainly produces a popular New Zealand walnut variety called meyric, it also grows small amounts of 16 international varieties, including some from Europe and the United States.

The move to other varieties is part of a New Zealand Treecrops Association trial to test which varieties grow best in Wairarapa conditions.

The company's walnuts sell for $29.20 a kilogram when shelled, and $7 to $8 a kg whole.

The Dominion Post