The nutty farmer with a booming business just outside Ballarat

It may seem nutty, but Phil Farnell didn’t have a passion for walnuts when he bought a farm of 2500 walnut trees in Wallace.

NUT FARM: Wallace walnut farmer Phil Farnell shares his experience operating an organic nut farm as host of the National Walnut Conference. Farmers from across the country spent the weekend learning and networking in Wallace.

NUT FARM: Wallace walnut farmer Phil Farnell shares his experience operating an organic nut farm as host of the National Walnut Conference. Farmers from across the country spent the weekend learning and networking in Wallace.

Four years ago he didn’t know anything about the nut other than what it looked and tasted like. 

It’s been a journey of learning since he began harvesting walnuts at Wellwood farm with his wife Patty in 2014. 

This weekend he shared his knowledge with walnut growers from across Australia as the host of the National Walnut Conference. 

Growers were keen to learn new techniques at Mr Farnell’s unique farm, which is one of the only certified organic walnut farms in the country. 

Despite the surge in organically certified fruit and vegetables, Mr Farnell said it was rare for nuts to be organically grown. 

“People are becoming more concerned about chemicals in the food chain,” he said. 

“Part of the weekend was to show other walnut growers that there are other alternatives.”

An unripe walnut.

An unripe walnut.

Visitors were also drawn to Wallace to experience the farm’s high degree of value adding. 

Wellwood is one of two organic walnut oil manufacturers in Australia and the only walnut farm in the country to sell milled walnut shell. 

Milled walnut shell, which used to be a waste product, can be used as an exfoliant in beauty products, but is also used to sand-blast machinery parts. 

Wellwood sells milled walnut shell to the Australian Air Force to clean jet engine blades. 

Mr Farnell moved to the farm as a tree change after working as a civil engineer in Melbourne. 

“I knew nothing about walnuts. I bought the property knowing what walnuts looked like and how they tasted, but I was never passionate about walnuts,” he said.

“So I had to learn in the last four years and I am still learning about what they are, how you harvest them, what machinery you use to clean them and how dry them and moisture test.”

Mr Farnell pulled in about $500,000 worth of nuts from the trees last year in a bumper crop. 

Weather permitting, the walnut trees at the farm should increase production over the next seven years.

A walnut tree produces more nuts each year of it’s life, and won’t produce a single walnut until around four-years-old. 

At 28 years-old, Mr Farnell’s walnut trees are almost at peak production. 

“They are now producing somewhere between 40 and 60 kilograms of nuts per tree,” he said. 

But he said this year would be a smaller harvest, with less crop and hundreds of trees damaged by frost in November. 

Harvest is set to begin in the second week of April, when Mr Farnell uses a machine to shake the walnuts off the trees. 

NEW TECHNOLOGY: USING DRONES ON THE FARM

Mr Farnell has turned to new technology to save his nuts. 

He first had the idea to use a drone to scare cockatoos from eating walnuts on his trees 18 months ago. 

On Saturday he shared the technique with fellow farmers at the National Walnut Conference in Wallace during a professional drone demonstration. 

Mr Farnell has used the drone in the air to chase away cockatoos who love to eat his walnuts, but has also found the camera on the device to have other uses on his farm. 

“We have really good photo images of our farm from above. We can see trees that some are bigger than others, where the gaps are and where there are trees that are missing,” he said. 

“I can fly the drone to a sheep water trough on the other side of the farm in less than a minute and check the water level for the sheep without walking 15 minutes.”

Mr Farnell said he would continue to experiment with new technology to assist work on the farm. 

He is researching the possibilities of using a lens on the drone camera to separate infrared and ultraviolet light. 

“A tree that is doing well will come up as green on your image. One that is not doing two well will be red,” Mr Farnell said.

“By getting this map flying backwards and forwards over the property using this new infrared filter you can see plants that may need some help. You get that early warning sign before you and I can say this tree is looking a bit unhealthy, the leaves are going yellow. That is when we’ll physically see it but under new infrared that picture will come up early.”

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