A hard nut to crack: Future-proofing Australia’s macadamia industry

2 July 2024

Future-proofing the burgeoning macadamia industry is the focus of a long-term breeding program led by researchers at The University of Queensland.

The National Macadamia Breeding and Evaluation Program at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is using genomic selection in search for more efficient breeding systems for the nut.

 Megan Pope
Dr Mobashwer Alam and Prof Bruce Topp at Maroochy Research Station. Image: Megan Pope

UQ’s Professor Bruce Topp said the research team are breeding new cultivars that are more profitable for farmers and are using a range of methods to speed up cultivar release. 

“One of our aims is to improve efficiency by reducing the generation length or production time,” Professor Topp said.

“It took more than 20 years to develop four new cultivars released in 2017, that replaced the 50-year-old cultivars before them.

“If we can halve the time it takes to produce a new variety, then we're doubling the annual rate of genetic gain.

“We are expecting two new cultivars to be released in 2025.”

Australia’s macadamia industry is expanding with 800 growers nationwide and more than 41,000 hectares of orchards.

According to the Australian Macadamia Society, three quarters of the crop is exported to the value of $300 million.

Professor Topp said the program was also focused on tackling the impact of climate change on the industry.

“In the past few years, we’ve planted trials in areas that are much warmer than the current production areas of northern NSW and around Bundaberg in Queensland,” he said.

“We have a large trial at Rockhampton in Central Queensland and another at Emerald in the Central Highlands.

We’re selecting high performing individuals in these warm climates that will mimic what production climates may be like in 20 years.

“Given that it can take 20 years to produce a new variety, we need to start taking the necessary steps now.”

QAAFI’s Dr Mobashwer Alam is also using an Advance Queensland Fellowship to develop a cost effective and fast-tracked breeding strategy exploiting unused wild macadamia genetic resources.

“With the help of AI, we aim to select gene markers that can be used for accurate genomic prediction for yield and plant size,” Dr Alam said.

“AI can also help us select the best parents for future crossbreeds.

“If this project is successful, we will be using only a small number of molecular markers which will drastically reduce the cost of genotyping.

“If we reduce that cost from 50 to 70 dollars per sample to 10 or 12 dollars, this can bring significant genetic gain to the industry in a short time.”

The National macadamia breeding and evaluation program has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the macadamia research and development levy, contributions from the Australian Government and co-investment from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Dr Alam's project received an Advance Queensland research fellowship grant.

Images and video are available via Dropbox.

Media: Professor Bruce Topp, b.topp@uq.edu.au, +61 427 682 384; Dr Mobashwer Alam, m.alam@uq.edu.au, +61 407 925 991; QAAFI Media, Natalie MacGregor, n.macgregor@uq.edu.au, +61 409 135 651.

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is a research institute at The University of Queensland supported by the Queensland Government via the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.