Goulburn Valley Walnuts to move to Toolamba

By Rodney Woods

Goulburn Valley Walnuts will have a new home in time for the next walnut season.

The Violet Town business has purchased a property at 120 Baulch Rd, Toolamba, to expand its operations by processing value-added products, as well as its bulk kernel and in-shell product lines.

"At the moment at Violet Town we’ve got drying capacity of 50 tonne a day. We're  going to double that to 100 tonne a day," director Patrick McNamara said.

"What we are looking at with this new factory is we want to get into value-added products," he said.

"There’s a range of things that we want to do.

"At the moment the kernel comes off as kernel product as against in-shell.

"It goes into a vacuum-sealed plastic bags that hold 10kg of kernel.

"Then it gets a nitrogen gas into the bag before it's sealed that will kill any contamination — then it’s a safe product.

"We sell that wholesale ... and we also sell in-shell and they're in 10 kilo boxes.

"The sort of things we want to do is packaging walnut kernel in snack packs.

"It could be down to 150g rather than 10kg bags.

"There's quite a market for that."

Mr McNamara, who is a former deputy premier of Victoria and current deputy chair of Goulburn-Murray Water, said the new Toolamba plant — a former tomato growing and packing facility — would need to be operational by April, in order to be ready for next walnut season.

He said the new premises would allow them to expand their export opportunities.

"We sell them interstate, we sell them overseas, we’ve exported to China,  Philippines, Vietnam.

"We are one of two walnut processing businesses in Australia that do export.

"Websters is by far the biggest, they're probably 90 per cent of the industry, so  we're quite small but we've got eight shareholder grower members, who are part owners of this business, and then we process for another 25 or 30.

"We've developed some good opportunities for market and we want to expand those markets overseas particularly."

The business is expected to invest more than $500 000 into the new facility, and there will also be the opportunity to plant walnut trees with the small permanent high-security water allocation available on the property.

While the size of the property and the ability to plant trees were major reasons for the purchase, its location stood out the most.

"One of the advantages we’ve got is the Shepparton bypass (is not far away)," Mr McNamara said.

"That gives us really good access from here to Melbourne with freeway all the way and freeway all the way until you hit the Midland Hwy.

"It's a very good location going forward and it suits us in a lot of respects."

Australian Walnut Industry Association president Sally Smith said the Australian walnut industry began to grow in the 1990s, with a majority of orchards  establishing in  Victoria  around the Goulburn River and along the Murray River. 

"Orchards have now spread to Tasmania, NSW, South Australia and Western Australia," Ms Smith said.

"New, larger orchards, managed as non-family enterprises, are being planted in the slightly drier areas of north-west Victoria, the NSW Riverina and in WA."

Victoria now has about 60 orchards growing 100,000 trees on 450ha, with large plantings continuing.  

Ms Smith said walnuts required a good water supply and rich, well-drained soil. Water access will be an important factor for the industry’s continued growth. Other considerations are sunburn and heat events. 

More than 11,700 tonnes of walnuts were grown in Australia in 2018, with a farm gate value of $55 million and an export value of about $25 million.