THE sky is the limit for Australian nut production according to the heads of industry, so long as levies are handled correctly.
Hazelnut Growers of Australia, Chestnuts Australia Inc and the Australian Walnut Industry Association combined earlier this month to host the inaugural Tri-Nut Conference in Tasmania.
About 120 delegates from across Australia attended the three-day conference at the Tamar Resort, Launceston.
While there were some concerns voiced about levy investments, the resounding mood was generally upbeat across the three industries.
The farmgate value of the Australian chestnut, hazelnut and walnut industries in 2015 exceeded $70 million.
The total combined Australian tree nut industries boast a $1.2 billion worth.
Across the three specific nut industries there are in excess of 500 growers in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.
Chestnuts Australia Inc (CAI) president Brian Casey told the audience the Australian contribution to world chestnut production, of about 1300 tonnes, might not be big but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Our 1000 tonnes is but a drop in the ocean but that tells me we've got a lot of potential," he said.
He said the industry needs to focus on reducing internal rot in chestnuts to ensure quality.
He also said the executive committee's tasks are increasing and may need better management.
"We need to try and spread that workload if we can because I don't think we'll decrease it too much the way things are going," he said.
Although confident about future growth, Mr Casey said figures showed net profits have gone down for most growers over the past five to 10 years.
"The better growers, the innovative growers would probably say they are doing okay- that's great but across the industry wide, you'd probably say there hasn't been a great increase," he said.
Production levels have remained static for about five years according to Mr Casey.
Hazelnut Growers of Australia president Darren Baguley said there has been tremendous growth in the hazelnut industry in the past year, with Australia producing 190 tonnes of kernel which is up 46 per cent on 2015.
He said the farmgate value also rose to $2.1 million, up 87pc.
Major investment from Ferrero Australia and its hazelnut business Agri Australis, has helped excel interest and investment in the sector.
Mr Baguley said hazelnuts have been finding higher acceptance through their usage in restaurant and café dishes, as well as in gelato and even distillers.
Australian Walnut Industry Association president Michael Lang said his industry was enjoying a value of production of about $42 million per year.
He said it was curious that about 40pc of that is through the farmgate and farmer's markets but from a volume point of view those outlets equate to less than 1pc.
The major reason for this is the expansion of large grower Webster Limited which accounts for between 70 and 90pc of all walnut production and about 99pc of export, according to Mr Lang.
Australian Nut Industry Council (ANIC) chair and Australian Macadamia Society CEO Jolyon Burnett declared his sustained enthusiasm for the nut industries in his update.
"I think it is the poster boy of not only Australian horticulture but Australian agriculture," he said.
He said the existence of ANIC in itself, with its seven member associations, was a testament to the shared vision of Australia's nut industries.
"Macadamias and almonds are certainly enjoying profitable times at the moment but both have had their lean years," he said.
"The nut sector in Australia represents over 50pc of all horticultural exports.
"When I go to Canberra and talk with the politicians, that is something that almost always attracts their attention."
He said the nut sector continues to attract significant investment with the combined industries quadrupling their production and overall farmgate value in the past decade.
"In fact the biggest challenge in macadamias at the moment is that we can't get enough investment to meet global supply demands," he said.
He predicted a future value of more than $2 billion in coming years.
But Mr Burnett then turned his focus to Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) and its handling of levy funds under the new structure.
"I hate to say but there's only so long the transition period can be used as a reason for some confusion and lack of focus," he said.
He said it was frustrating that HIA had a focus on Asian markets when about 40pc of nut exports go elsewhere.
"We are starting to make HIA understand that not all of horticulture is fresh," he said.
"We need to look beyond the limits of the levy program.
"Even for the industries such as almonds and macadamias with big R&D levies, it's simply not sufficient to fund our levies and we will have to be much more creative in terms of how we source and use funds."
Chestnuts Australia's Brian Casey also took a swipe at HIA over its role in levy collection and decision-making.
"If HIA are coming in and start to take some of those traditional roles that the PIBs (peak industry bodies) were doing, I see that as a big problem," he said.
In rounding off, Mr Burnett congratulated and encouraged conference attendees.
"You have chosen well to invest in the Australian nut industry. You should be proud of this sector and you should promote and advocate the sector," Mr Burnett said.
"I believe there are great things lying ahead for all of the nuts in Australia."