Source: Australian Chestnut Industry Five Year Strategic Investment Plan 2011 - 2016
Although chestnuts have been grown in Australia for over a hundred years, the commercial industry has existed for little more than 20 years. As the industry grows, it is developing its supply chains and establishing industry standards in relation to varieties and best practice orchard management and product handling practices. Industry members are working hard to continually develop fresh supply chains and build value added businesses around supply.
Ideally chestnuts are grown in areas that are hot in summer and cold in winter and preferably 800 metres plus above sea level. The majority of Australian production, approximately 70%, is grown in NE Victoria. Production also occurs in other parts of Victoria (east of Melbourne), NSW (Batlow, Orange, Canberra, Sassafras and Tenterfield), SA (Adelaide Hills), South West Western Australia and throughout Tasmania.
There are estimated to be approximately 300 growers in the industry, of which less than 100 are members of Chestnuts Australia Inc.
The industry is characterised by a large number of small, family owned farms. There are only a handful of large production businesses that make their primary or significant income from chestnut production.
Plantings are increasing and are currently around 1000 hectares (200,000 trees). Over recent years, production has been impacted by drought, however as the industry emerges from these conditions, the total Australia crop is estimated to potentially be 2,000 tonnes per annum. Over the next five years, production is expected to increase to 2,500 tonnes as younger plantings come into full production. Plantings are also expected to increase to 250,000 trees. A small number of trees, approximately 5,300, have been removed during from 2010- 2013 as a result of an incursion of chestnut blight.
The farm gate value of production is currently valued at A$9 million. This is expected to grow to more than A$11 million in 2016.
As a product, the nutritional attributes, uses and versatility of chestnuts are little known by Australian consumers. One particular attribute is its suitability as a food for gluten intolerant people, which is a key strength for marketing purposes. Overall however, the product offering from the industry is not well developed, nor are there strong, recognised brands. Unlike other horticultural products such as apples or potatoes, varieties are not usually differentiated at the retail level.
Markets and customers
Most chestnuts are sold through the wholesale markets in Sydney and Melbourne. Industry estimates that independent retailers achieve the most retail sales, followed by supermarkets, then farmers’ markets and other supply chains. Significant volumes are also sold at farm gates.
Rather than seeking specific varieties for their shops, most retail buyers depend heavily on their wholesaler to assist with their purchasing decision. Easy peeling varieties are now highly sought after.
The chestnut (Castanea) belongs to the Fagaceae family which includes oak and beech trees. There are four main varieties:
Castanea sativa (European chestnut)
Castanea mollissima (Chinese chestnut)
Castanea crenata (Japanese chestnut)
Castanea dentata (American chestnut)
Whilst by far the most common variety in Australia is the European chestnut, there are small numbers of the other varieties, as well as some hybrids.
The traditional consumers of chestnuts are people with a European or Asian background who have historical links with the product and are familiar with its preparation, benefits and use. In recent years the product has been positioned as an ‘aspirational’ or gourmet product and has found a niche in the restaurant / fine dining sector of the food service market. By extension it is also sought by dedicated ‘foodies’.
Value added products such as frozen peeled chestnuts, flour, cake mixes, purees and beer have also emerged to meet consumer demand. Value added products and improved storage technology mean that the product is available beyond the seasonal production window and this is helping to establish the product on restaurant menus. There is still enormous scope to further develop the demand for chestnuts by introducing new consumers to the product.
The export sector is only small with approximately 1% of production being exported. Fresh product is being sold into Asian markets including Japan, Singapore and the Middle East. There is potential to further develop export markets, but this will be influenced by the competitiveness of the Australian dollar and having access to quality fresh and value-added product.
In recent years there has been significant investment by growers to ensure the varieties that they are producing are meeting customer needs. This includes planting or re-working the preferred varieties and removing or not marketing non-preferred varieties and inferior seedlings.
Horticulture Australia Ltd www.horticulture.com.au
Plant Health Australia http://www.planthealthaustralia.com.au/
Department of Primary Industries Victoria http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry http://www.daff.gov.au/