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Do They Still Grow Macadamia Nuts in Hawaii?

Aug 10, 2023Aug 10, 2023

Macadamia nuts are synonymous with Hawaii. At least, they are for me, but that may be the unreasonable quantity of my family and I snack on during vacations there. Our favorite was always the Kona coffee glazed nuts made by Mauna Loa.

Hawaiian Host Group, which currently owns the Mauna Loa brand, closed its Big Island macadamia nut processing facility last year "for at least a year or two." In March this year, the Hawaii legislature considered a bill to require "country of origin to be included on the principal display panel of a consumer package of raw or processed macadamia nuts". This bill appears to be targeted at Hawaiian Host Group, which has sourced an increasing percentage of its nuts from outside Hawaii.

Although the macadamia nut was first grown commercially in Hawaii, it is native to Australia. The Aboriginal people treated it as a delicacy and called it Kindal Kindal, Boombera, or Jindilli. A European botanist with a very long name, Baron Sir Ferdinand Jacob Heinrich von Mueller, established the genus Macadamia in 1858, naming it after his friend, John Macadam.

Macadamias are a minor nut on the world stage. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which publishes detailed data on global agriculture, puts macadamias in the "other nuts" category. Measured by weight, the most prominent tree nuts are almonds, cashews and walnuts. In dollar terms, almonds and walnuts rank number one and two, with a low value per pound pushing cashews down to sixth. Global tree nut production has approximately doubled since 2000.

Macadamia nut production has more than doubled since 2012, but it only makes up about 1% of tree nuts in the world.

Hawaii now contributes just 5% of world macadamia nut production, down from 45% in 1999. The largest producers in the world are now South Africa, Australia, Kenya, and China. Essentially all US production occurs in Hawaii.

Hawaiian macadamia nut acreage increased substantially in the 1980s and early 1990s, reaching a peak or 19,300 acres in 1995. It dropped in the ensuing decade, before rebounding somewhat in recent years. Production fluctuates wildly from year to year because macadamias, like many nut trees, are alternate bearing. Average production has remained around 42 million pounds per year since 2012. Prices received by farmers increased dramatically in the 2010s reflecting high global demand, but they dropped precipitously in 2022.

Global macadamia nut production has increased fivefold since 1995, yet Hawaiian acreage is only 20% below its 1995 peak. This is good news for Hawaiian farmers as it suggests they have been able to remain competitive in the face of massive global growth. A glut suppressed world prices in 2022, but if the industry can expand demand like it hopes, then prices will rebound.

The United States imports about three times more macadamia nuts than it produces, so Hawaii will never produce enough macadamia nuts to satisfy US demand. Hawaiian Host says it plans to re-open its Mauna Loa plant as soon as it completes modernizing its boilers to satisfy state emissions laws. It plans to power the facility using a recently completed 1.2-megawatt solar power farm. If this occurs, then it bodes well for macadamia production in Hawaii to continue around its current level.

Hopefully, it also means Mauna Loa will bring back the Kona glazed flavor, which they recently stopped making.

I made the charts in the this article with this R code.

PS: When we visited the Big Island recently, we enjoyed tasty mac nuts from Ahualoa family farms.