William Purvis introduced the first macadamias into Hawaii in 1881, though the major development of the Hawaiian macadamia industry occurred after 1930 (Cooper 1988). At one time it produced 90% of the world's supply. Annual macadamia nut production ranged from 21,400 to 22,550 t during the five year period of 1989 to 1994. Approximately 7,100-7,500 ha of macadamia plantings were harvested during the same period (USDA 1993; Rowley et al. 1994). Most Hawaiian macadamia production is from Macadamia integrifolia derived cultivars. The University of Hawaii and Hawaiian macadamia growers have actively engaged in research in macadamia cultivation and in the selection of improved macadamia cultivars. The Hawaiian industry has been diligent and aggressive in marketing and sales.
Hawaiian dominance of world production is currently being challenged. Australian plantings and production have expanded dramatically during the past 30 years. There are currently 20,000 ha devoted to macadamia plantings. One third of the area planted to macadamias is mature, another one third is in the early bearing stage, and another third is not yet bearing. Approximately 30% of world production now comes from Australia, and the Australian Macadamia Society projects that Australia will double its percentage of world production within five years (Stapleton 1995). Australian production increased from 4,400 t in 1987 to 21,000 t in 1995. Commercial plantings in Australia were initially based on Macadamia integrifolia cultivars developed in Hawaii, but newer selections from Australia are now coming into production. Australia currently has the world's largest macadamia research and selection program, and their industry is actively seeking new and expanded markets.
Macadamia orchards have also been established in Central America, Brazil, Kenya, Indonesia, Taiwan, and southern Africa (Arpaia 1994). Processed nuts grown in Guatemala are being marketed in the United States by one of the larger Hawaiian macadamia producers and processors. However the total world production of macadamia nuts is quite small, and it constitutes less than 0.5% of the total world nut sales (Stapleton 1995).
Macadamia seeds were first brought to California from Australia in 1879 (Ferguson and Arpaia 1990). A number of seedlings were successfully grown in southern California subsequent to that introduction, though Wickson (1910) made no reference to macadamias. There was some interest in Pasadena and Whittier in the 1920s, and a few relic trees from that time remained for decades. I examined one of the early seedling trees and its nuts in the 1950s. However, little interest was shown in commercial macadamia cultivation until the 1950s when several nurserymen began to promote macadamia growing and production. One of these was Cliff Tanner who propagated a number of tropical and subtropical fruits and nuts in addition to the macadamia. Another was Colonel Wells Miller. Macadamia enthusiasts formed the California Macadamia Society in 1953. The Gold Crown Macadamia Association has marketed California grown macadamias for its member growers for over two decades. Macadamia production has not attained the status of an economically important crop in California, despite efforts made by individuals to develop production. Most of the population of the region appears to be unaware that there is any commercial macadamia production in Southern California. Hawaiian and Central American produced nuts dominate the southern California market despite the fact that substantial macadamia production is possible there.
Macadamia trees grow successfully at a number of points in California. Macadamia climatic requirements are similar to Mexican or Guatemalan races of the avocado. Macadamia trees are intolerant of heavy frost. Frost damage begins to occur at -2.8°C (27°F), especially if the period of low temperatures lasts for several hours. Macadamia trees are also intolerant of prolonged periods of high temperatures and low humidity, and this precludes commercial macadamia production in the thermal belts of the San Joaquin Valley or in relatively frost-areas of the Sonoran Desert. Commercial production of macadamias is therefore located in San Diego, Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties. Climatic conditions are also suitable in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, but those counties are now so intensively urbanized that there is little or no potential land area left for macadamia cultivation. Neither production volumes nor the land area devoted to macadamia production in California are available. There were an estimated 600-800 ha of macadamia plantings in 1988 (Cooper 1988). Long (1988) estimated that there were about 400 ha in San Diego County. It appears that the area devoted to macadamia production has probably declined, but there are no accurate figures to indicate how much. Many of the producing trees have been planted to replace avocado trees that have been infected by avocado root rot (Phytophthora cinnamomi). Accurate estimates on the land area occupied by macadamia trees that are scattered through avocado groves are not available. Other producing trees have been planted on small plots of land around homes or on the edges of avocado or citrus groves. No one has determined the extent of area planted in macadamias in this manner, yet there is commercial production from these plantings.
The flavor of cultivars derived from the two Macadamia species differs perceptibly. Macadamia tetraphylla cultivars produce nuts with a high carbohydrate content, sweeter flavor, and a lower oil content than those from M. integrifolia, though they are more difficult to process and stabilize for shipping and storage. The high oil content of M. integrifolia gives it an advantage over M. tetraphylla for roasting and salting (Stapleton 1995). Subtle but real differences in flavor between the two groups of cultivars offer a particular niche to California growers, for macadamia production in Hawaii and Australia is primarily from M. integrifolia cultivars. The sweetness of fresh macadamia nuts from the M. tetraphylla x integrifolia hybrids usually grown in California makes it unnecessary to salt them, though a few growers roast and salt nuts in the same manner that Hawaiian or Central American producers do. The flavor of California produced macadamias is excellent, and it is a major advantage for growers. The sweetness of California grown macadamias is well suited for various confections. The flavors of candies and other confections made from California nuts are somewhat different from similar products from Hawaii. Frieda's Inc. of Los Alamitos, California buys all of the macadamia nuts included in their products from California sources. Most of the sales volume of California macadamias is repeat business.
Present and potential macadamia production areas in California are both scenic and readily accessible to the large urban populations of Southern California. Direct marketing can be done by growers. People can easily visit macadamia orchards and purchase nuts directly from a grower as they do with a number of other fruits and nuts. Macadamias are popularly perceived as an exotic specialty crop. They therefore have a certain built-in appeal to some segments of the southern California population.
The proximity of production and markets obviate the need to package and preserve California grown nut meats in the same manner as Hawaiian and Central American producers do for their sales to distant markets. High temperatures or prolonged roasting alters the flavor of the nuts. There is a market for both fresh and packaged nuts, and California growers have an advantage in marketing the former, especially in California and the Southwest. The proximity of production and marketing also permits California growers to market unshelled macadamia nuts to the public more economically than growers located in distant regions. The hardness of macadamia shells requires specially designed and built nutcrackers. There is a certain risk involved in unshelled nut sales, for some nuts are always defective. The purchase of shelled nuts permits the processor to eliminate defective nuts and the customer to observe the quality of the nuts being purchased. The unit price of the nut meats is thus similar in shelled and unshelled nuts.
Macadamia trees in California suffer from fewer diseases and pests than most other crops. They are not particularly susceptible to the oak wilt fungus that has devastated many avocado orchards in southern California.
The high cost of macadamia production dictates high retail prices. Current retail macadamia prices are $6.60 to 8.80/kg($3 to 4/lb) for nuts in the shell, and $30.80/kg ($14.00/lb) for shelled nuts.
More information is needed regarding rootstocks because soils in California are highly variable. Clay soils slow the time needed to reach maturity, though the slower growth of the root system results in trees having firmer anchorage. Selections should also be made for cold hardiness. Recently 'Cynthia' has been used as a rootstock for cold resistance (Cooper 1992).
Technology used in other crops has been applied to macadamia handling and processing, and some of the machinery being used has been developed by individual growers. Mechanized processing equipment is available from firms, such as the R.P. Barton Co. of Escalon, California; Shaw Macadamia of Gooding, Idaho; or Keiser Manufacturing Co. of Sequin, Texas. However most their equipment is designed to handle large quantities of product, and the equipment is costly. There is a largely unfilled need for small scale harvesting and handling equipment. More and innovative thought is needed to increase efficiency in harvesting, processing, and handling the product.
California macadamia nuts cannot compete against other, cheaper nuts if they are marketed and consumed in exactly the same manner as nuts from Central America, Australia, and Hawaii. California growers and marketers must emphasize the different flavors and texture of their product as a niche market if they are to build a successful industry. Growers should emphasize the different flavor of freshly roasted, unsalted nuts. Their product must be perceived as being equal to and somewhat different from the best macadamia nuts grown in other areas, and that perception must be based on reality. The economics of production demand that California grown nuts sell at higher prices than nuts grown in other areas.
Macadamia growers must play the dominant role in marketing and publicizing their crop. They produce a specialty crop that is rightly considered to be a gourmet food. Growers should sell as many nuts and macadamia products as possible themselves. More direct marketing and dealing with fewer handlers between grower and producer will bring higher prices to the grower and more affordable prices for the consumer. Several growers sell nuts and confections directly to the public. More direct marketing efforts are needed. Growers should cater to tourism as the date industry has done in the Coachella Valley or the apple growers have done in Oak Glen. More publicity is needed to acquaint the public with the existence of macadamia growing and macadamia products in California.
Individual outlets for nuts and nut products will probably not be sufficient to sell all the crop, especially if production increases substantially. Growers should deal individually or collectively with specialty food stores such as Farmers Market, Bristol Farms, Trader Joe's, and others who already sell processed nuts from other areas of the world to an affluent and specialty oriented clientele. These firms sell specialty candies and baked goods, and these would be possible outlets for nuts and nut parts. The Gold Crown cooperative currently sells to Frieda's Inc. of Los Alamitos California. Similar marketing arrangements should be sought out by growers. Those involved in macadamia production and marketing should also make efforts to have macadamia nuts or products incorporated into the style of cooking known as "California cuisine."