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White River processing solution to growing macadamia industry

Khuvuka Max, a grower-owned non-contractual macadamia nut factory, is doing its bit to help sustain the sector’s current growth trajectory.

On February 15, 2018 – in time for the next harvest – it will host an open day at its factory in White River, Mpumalanga, to share with the industry its expanded processing capabilities and innovative cracking technology.

Barry Christie, the Operations Manager: Macadamias at the South African Subtropical Growers’ Association, confirms that the South African macadamia industry is growing at an exponential rate. “It is currently growing by approximately 4 000 ha per annum, with more than 30 000 ha already planted.

“Production has increased to such an extent over the past decade that South Africa is now the largest exporter of macadamias and also the largest producer,” he says, explaining, however, that the country’s production took a temporary dip in 2016 and 2017 because of the drought conditions.

The increased number of orchards has created a demand for more processing plants to be able to handle the increased volumes, says Christie. “Most processing facilities recognise this and are expanding. The initial 2018 crop forecast is set at 56 000 tonnes of nuts in-shell (NIS) at 1.5% kernel moisture content.”

It may be a relatively small operation but Khuvuka is considered an industry pioneer. Louis Kok was a successful businessman when he bought Loerieskloof farm in Peebles Valley, near the Kruger Park, as a retirement property in 1970.

A former director in the Barloworld group, Louis could not sit idle, however, and within a short space of time, he had planted macadamia orchards in the fertile valley. At that stage of the Lowveld’s agricultural development, Louis was one of the first farmers to plant macadamia trees.

Not a man to do things by half, he immersed himself in learning as much about the crop and industry as possible. His interest in the sector led to his involvement in the Southern African Macadamia Growers’ Association (SAMAC) in its early days.

Louis’s industry research took him to a number of nut processing facilities and it gradually dawned on him that the method used to crack the nuts was imperfect. Instead of cracking the shell inwards, why not force the shell outwards, which would put less pressure on the kernel? he wondered.

After much experimentation with processing efficiencies, Louis established a small processing plant in 1996 that pioneered his new cracking method.

What started out as a pilot production line to test Louis’s new technology has over the years grown into a processing business that is now poised to help the industry meet its growing needs.

Sadly, Louis passed away in 2009 but son Cobus is determined to carry on his dad’s legacy.

“Experts in the macadamia industry acknowledge that the technology invented by my dad has improved the whole kernel crack-out recovery rate. There is also less shell dust adherence and dirt contamination, and less oil cell damage to the product.”

Over the years, the pilot plant has undergone improvements and expansions to supply Khuvuka Max’s increasing kernel production but a few years ago, Cobus decided that with the macadamia industry booming, the time had come to develop the infrastructure necessary to harness his dad’s technology in a large, fully developed factory.

Manie Coetzer of WMC Sheet Metal Works, which specialises in the complete mechanical design and engineering of production lines, was contracted in 2012 to assist with improvements to Louis’s design. The most significant change was switching from pistons to rotors and introducing an automatic single file feeder system. Louis’s big idea of forcing the shell to crack outwards, away from the kernel, remains central to the advanced technology employed in the 2 250m² factory.

Processes undertaken in the factory include the drying of the nuts in-shell, cracking, sorting, grading, sizing, styling, the drying of the kernels, packing and quality control. In addition, the factory has been designed to increase capacity modularly, when the need arises.

“Our facilities make provision for the streamlining of NIS exports. If a suitable quality of NIS is delivered, we would be able to export them as quickly as they are delivered and dried. This would probably place us in a position to export more NIS than we would be capable of cracking, which would more than double the total capacity of our factory, to around 5 000 to 6 000 tonnes initially,” says Cobus.

Khuvuka Max complies with the stringent quality standards that international food trade bodies and authorities demand, with specific reference to the macadamia industry.

“As a macadamia producer ourselves, we understand farmers; their risks, their ambitions, their challenges, their vulnerabilities and their fears,” says Cobus.

Khuvuka Max – which has 72 ha of macadamias and is in the process of achieving its Global Good Agricultural Practices certification – has 15 years of experience in the export of macadamia nuts.

“We export kernel mainly to Europe and America, and qualifying NIS product to China. We pride ourselves on supplying high quality macadamias to the local market, through reputable outlets, predominantly as roasted, salted product but with a fair amount of raw kernel also distributed,” says Cobus, explaining that top grade macadamias are a scarce commodity in South Africa.

“SAMAC is hard at work to clamp down on the many suppliers who supply factory rejects to the local market as ‘choice grade’ product at a discounted – but still expensive – price. This practice makes entry very hard for producers of true premium product. Largely we have succeeded and people now know where to shop for excellent quality product.”

“We have put tremendous time and effort into research and development. This has ensured that we have industry-unique equipment and processes in place, enabling us to add significant value to the macadamia industry through efficient processing and the delivery of a premium product,” says Cobus.

“Macs is a household abbreviation for macadamias and we chose to attach to our brand the homophone abbreviation ‘Max’ to emphasise that we are pushing the limits in bringing about something new and exciting.”

For more information, visit www.khuvuka.co.za

If you would like to see Khuvuka’s innovative technology for yourself at the open day on February 15, 2018, please contact Janine at 073 217 9679 or email her at janine@macasa.co.za