Growing macadamias is a long-term commitment and a major investment. As CommBank customer Janelle Gerry says – if you’re in, you’re all in.
Janelle and her family operate Macadamias Australia outside Bundaberg, Queensland. They began growing macadamias in 2004 but the business started with an uncleared block in 1958.
To pay for their farmland to be cleared, Janelle’s father Ron Steinhardt worked at a sawmill in the neighbouring Queensland town of Maryborough and cut cane by hand for local cane farmers. Ron lived in a small shed awning, with three walls and an open front, during this early period when he and his then-fiancée Marion planted peanuts.
“They’re the reason we’re here today,” Janelle says. “It all started with their vision and their pioneering spirit.”
Over the years, the business diversified in several directions before settling on the macadamia venture.
“We wanted to get into a crop that would be sustainable long term, with less fluctuations,” Janelle says.
Being native to the region, they knew macadamias would grow well in the region but doing it at a scale, which would make it, a worthwhile business venture meant a huge investment.
“It’s six to seven years from planting to harvest and you need a sizable acreage. We put in 130,000 trees in our first planting,” says Janelle. “If you’re going to do it, you have to be really committed. You can’t go in halfway.”
The family now has over 220,000 trees and Macadamias Australia now sells kernels to over 15 countries and some of the biggest food manufacturers.
As the local industry grew, the family foresaw that cracking and processing would become a challenge, so they built their own facility.
“Bundaberg is now the largest growing region of macadamias in Australia, and we knew there was a shortage coming in terms of cracking facilities, so we decided to take out some of the risk by building our own. Being fully integrated is fantastic, and means we can process our produce, and it gives us a great level of control over our quality. We’re connected to the product, from start to finish.
“We are also partnering with like-minded growers to supply nut in-shell to the factory who share our commitment to high quality, sustainable and socially responsible farming practices.”
Janelle says the business’ strong focus on research and development and measurement has been valuable in its relationship with Commonwealth Bank, which has supported Macadamias Australia to grow.
“They felt comfortable with us because we are always looking at performance, risk and our strategy.
“We needed a bank that would enable us to meet our strategic objectives and we have found that with CommBank. They have been able to offer us financial solutions that reflects where we want to go, including a banking platform that allows us to transact internationally.
“The partnership between our team and the Bank is a perfect match and we feel completely supported.”
The Steinhardts’ CommBank Agribusiness Executive John Hack says CommBank worked closely with the family to develop an approach that was clear but flexible.
“We made sure we understood the key drivers and competitive advantages around their plans, and discussed at length what we saw as their challenges and the solutions to those challenges,” John says.
In addition to kernels, the business also offers a number of single origin value-added products including chocolate coated macadamias and a new ‘happy nut’ vanilla macadamia in-shell product.
Recently, the family has also invested in a tourism venture on-farm, with tastings, retail offerings, a café and self-guided tours.
While the business has grown and changed, family has remained at the centre of everything the Steinhardt’s do. They have a formal process called their Family Council that brings together family members in and outside of operational roles to ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
“We’re really proud of what we have achieved as a family. We all agree it is so important to be aligned on our values and vision, education and our charter. Of course none of this would be possible without the support of our extended family, and our dedicated team of amazing employees”, says Janelle.
“As a family we genuinely want to make a positive impact on the land, our environment and the lives we touch.”
If there's an opportunity you want to explore, talk to a CommBank Regional and Agribusiness Specialist today.