New Year wishes can be so … “obligatory” … and I am struggling with how to make sure that you feel the sincerity of mine. 2019 has been a tumultuous year for so many, especially those of you who work the land for a living. There have been wonderful highs and some dark lows. However, I believe this balance is necessary so I won’t pretend to wish you only the best, instead, for 2020, I’ll wish you ‘enough’ …

And, for TropicalBytes, I hope for the same. Enough participation (from farmers and advertisers) to continue growing this platform as the useful, interesting tool I hope it is. As always, I openly welcome your input into what works and what doesn’t, as well as suggestions on what could improve the site.

And now we move into the plan for 2020 … you can look forward to 12 articles this year, one per month. I hesitate to openly commit to a plan this early but, in the interests of transparency and cooperation, I am going to share my preliminary plans with you, hoping you’ll be tolerant of changes that may happen when we ‘roll with the punches’ that will come …

TropicalBytes 2020 Plan Topic Detail
January (the one you’re reading now! 😊) Varieties


Plan for 2020

Included here is an updated pdf of the Cultivar poster (I will also be printing and distributing these to all mac farmers, in hard copy, via the processors during 2020). We also briefly cover what the farmers, interviewed thus far, have to say about each variety.

I have also launched the “Index” tab on the website which will enable farmers to easily search references to topics about which they have an interest.

February Jaff 2020-1 First farmer interview of 2020
March Harvesting & Processing Covering all aspects of getting those nuts off the trees and to the hand-over point, with the best outcome for the farmer. And then some interesting info about what happens thereafter ie: what the processors do.
April Irrigation What are the options, costs and considerations when it comes to supplementary water supplied to macs.
May Pruning The how, when, why and how of pruning macs.
June Nurseries


In the beginning …

Shedding light on why the stuff that happens before you see it, is so important.

July Planting, Soils


Land Prep


Going ‘below the line’ and discovering why subterranean matters are often more important than those we see clearly.
August Fertilising Sponsored by Kynoch. An overall view of fertilising, specific to macs, will be given, using insight from a few specialists. Including an interview with a top farmer suggested by Kynoch.
September Pests & Diseases Sponsored by FMC. An overall view of pest and diseases, specific to macs, will be given, using insight from a few specialists. Including an interview with a top farmer suggested by FMC.
October Jaff 2020-2 Second farmer interview of 2020
November Jaff 2020-3 Third farmer interview of 2020
December Africa Overview &

Plan for 2021 OR

Jaff 2020-4

I may expand TropicalBytes into Africa for 2021 and give an overview of the industry across our borders.

If I don’t, this edition will be the fourth farmer interview of 2020

In June last year, I published a poster that gave details on the most popular mac cultivars and their characteristics. It was a hit – many industry participants found immense value in it. Since then, I have learnt a lot and can proudly say that v2 of that document is now available here. Not only that, I am also going to be printing a hard copy for every mac farmer out there, and distributing it via the various processors, throughout the year.

Seven mac farmers were interviewed in 2019 and here is a summary of the cultivars explored on their farms, in order of popularity:

Farmer Area Beaumont A4 816 Nelmak 2 814 A16 788 741 842 849 791 863 344
Farmers growing it (out of 7) 7 7 6 5 3 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 1
Jaff 7 Empangeni x x x x x x x
Jaffd Nelspruit x x x x
Jaff 5 Malelane x x x x x x x x
Jaff 4 Nelspruit x x x x
Jaff 3 Nelspruit x x x
Jaff 2 Nelspruit x x x x
Jaff 1 Oribi, KZN x x x x x x x x x x x

Here is a summary of their valuable comments on the cultivars they grow:


When choosing cultivars, farmers suggested that these factors be considered:

  • Market Demands: what is/will be selling well when your trees are in production. Without that elusive crystal ball, we can only use educated guesses to predict this, but it is certainly worth considering. Eg: currently, the market is favouring larger, whole, higher quality nuts (so 814, 816 would be more favourable) and moving away from the smaller, cheaper mass market nuts.
  • Farm Management: As your operation grows, it becomes more important to stagger the harvest by planting some early season, some mid-season, and some late season varieties.  This will alleviate pressure on your processing plant and prevent nuts lying on the ground, making them susceptible to pests, rotting and theft, for too long. This spread could also alleviate pressure on spraying, fertilising and irrigation programmes.
  • Micro-climates: Consideration of the land you have available, in terms of micro-climate and soil, will play a major part in which varieties will thrive. Eg: the A varieties are better suited to sheltered areas. It’s worth checking with the neighbours to see what’s working for them and if that insight can be implemented on your land. One farmer put it this way: “Selecting varieties for your mac farm is a bit like selecting a rugby team. You need diversity and they need to work together and be manageable. Props (816) can’t be put on the wing, sprinters (Beaumonts) would be more this kind of player etc.”
  • Cross-Pollination: The potential for cross pollination needs to be considered when planning orchards, especially when extension (spreading) of the harvest season is also a goal. Ie: there always needs to be another cultivar flowering simultaneously, and in the hive’s range, so that your trees have another variety to cross-pollinate with.
  • Harvest spray requirements are another consideration ie: ethapon needs to be sprayed in different strengths on different varieties so consider grouping them accordingly.
  • Alternate bearing: Varieties behave differently every year. The best way of handling this reality is to ensure you have a broad and balanced spread of cultivars.


General background: Beaumonts are the athletes of our team; they sustain well in the harsh South African conditions although drought can affect their yield by up to 50%.  They were first selected in California and brought to SA as potential rootstock. It is estimated that about 75% of the macs in SA are Beaumonts, and, besides some Nelmak 2 rootstock, almost all rootstock in SA is Beaumont.

Generally, they deliver impressive yields but quality is not the highest. They are the most precocious of the cultivars, bearing in year 3 already. They flower late in the season (around Aug / Sept) with richly fragranced, pink-hued blossoms.

Harvesting is generally around June to Sept. Beaumonts do not release their nuts easily and therefore often require manual stripping or Ethapon spray to initiate dropping.

Blossom Blight plagues Beaumont so well-aerated and maintained orchards are important.

Sea breeze is not a favourite of this variety and it does not perform well within 100m of sea level.

This tree grows vigorously and produces a dense canopy. It is easily trained, which is good news as navigating its incredibly spikey leaves can be very uncomfortable.

The husks are slightly knobbly.

Farmers Comments: Each variety has its quirks and preferences. Deciding what is right for your style of management, budget and markets will take wide-ranging research. Most farmers suggested that every farm should start with Beaumonts (and, if it is a small farm, you could keep it to Beaumonts only) as they give you faith and motivation to carry on. They are resilient in drought, come into production early and produce prolifically. Then build out from there, adding other varieties to cross-pollinate, serve other markets, spread your harvest etc.

The stand out advantage of Beaumonts is that they need less water and food and they recover quickly from adverse climatic conditions.

Although Nelmak 2s are nice, quick growers as well, they come into production about a year later. In year 3, when a young Beaumont orchard is delivering approx. 500kg/ha, Nelmak 2 will be producing about 80kgs/ha. From year 4 onwards, the harvest for these two varieties is ‘much of a muchness’.

General background: A4 and A16 are two of the most successful cultivars coming out of Australia. They both produce large (around 3,5 – 4g), oval kernels and have thin shells.

Although both have good yields, A4 starts bearing slightly earlier than A16, in year 3 or 4, but not as much as Beaumonts.

A4 has a husk that can create a sticky mess in the dehusker – the gluey type substance usually dries out if left on the orchard floor a little while longer. A4 has been particularly successful on the KZN South Coast where it has delivered a TKR of over 50%. Although A16 also has a high TKR, it is not generally as high as A4.  Yields between the two are very similar.

Both cultivars flower later in the season with A16 extending into October. Nut fall is mid-season.

Unfortunately, thrips is often a challenge for the A varieties, especially on new leaves. Both varieties are very viney in structure – they grow brittle branches – more upright in A16 than A4 – that bend and break in strong winds. A16 battles with wind even more than A4, which has a more open canopy shape.

Farmers Comments: I found that the farmers do not identify definitive differences between these two varieties, instead they tended to comment on them in the same way. Most report cards suggest that all these trees struggle in the wind, especially in the first few years. If you have an established wind-break or are blessed with a gale-free farm, they can be very rewarding (most farmers reported high yields AND great quality from them), especially as they are perfect to fill that late season spot, alongside the Beaumonts.

On the down-side, they are rather a dense tree and therefore challenging to prune – the branches are inclined to be long and willowy. Other factors to be aware of are their tendency to be alternate bearing.

General background: 816 is a late bloomer, but when it does eventually deliver, the fruit is of a very high quality.  First fruits shouldn’t be expected much before the 5th year, with a yield of around 2 to 2,5t/h.

Once into production, 816 delivers at the top of its class with whole kernel of 62 to 65% and a TKR of over 44%. The nuts are also perfectly white, round and creamy. Flowering is usually mid-season.

816 can be prone to diseases with phytophthera-susceptibility being a particular weakness. New leaves are prone to thrips damage, perhaps because of the softer structure of 816’s foliage. And, of course, this pampered child needs more sustenance than most so be sure to pay attention to     nitrogen levels as 816 is known to require about 20% more than average.

Farmers Comments: When you’ve established a solid base to your operation and you’re ready to add some top-quality nuts to your basket, and have the capacity for some fussy behaviour, consider this attention-demanding diva. As the international mac market matures, there will be a growing niche demand for this kind of large size nut and excellent quality (whole, with smooth creamy texture and colour).

Top of the list of disadvantages are the fact that it takes so long to come into production – often as long as 6 years. It also tends to bear alternately and is far more likely to struggle through adverse climatic conditions and take a lot longer to recover. * The harvest is also not going to be overly substantial.

*Although most farmers reported that 816s have to be irrigated and lavished with extra attention, one farmer wo bought a neglected farm (under dispute, with no input, for 5 years) reported that the finicky, fussy 816s were still alive when he took over and are now looking the picture of health and producing well (5 years later).

When it comes to harvesting, this spoilt child likes to hang onto part of its crop so 15 to 20% of the crop will normally require stripping.  I have read that 816 is not tolerant of ethapon but have also met a farmer in Nelspruit who uses ethapon on 816, with great success. The leaf loss he was told he’d experience was minimal; he believes tree health, at the time of spraying the ethapon, is a vitally important factor.

General background: South Africa’s most popular hybrid, this variety was developed in Nelspruit in the 1970s. It bears relatively early – expect your first small harvest in year 4.

The kernels are generally large but some seasons have seen inconsistency in this department.       Kernel recovery is almost always good.  Yields in the Midlands are usually exceptional but kernel     quality is better in the Lowveld.

Nelmak 2 flowers multiple times, generally in late July and early September. I have also seen Nelmak 2 flowers, in Nelspruit, in June.

A particular quirk of this variety is that it tends to be alternate bearing. It also struggles to recover from drought. It has been reported that Nelmak 2 does not do very well at higher altitudes but, in Nelspruit, at an ave of 800m, it is an important part of their basket.

The tree canopy is spreading and it needs low levels of training to achieve good sun penetration.

Farmers Comments: Nelmak 2s don’t get a lot of mention yet they are definitely a staple cultivar and grown by the majority of farmers. Perhaps a bit like the runner who comes 2nd – undeniably a great contender but who remembers second place? Positive comments include the whole kernel characteristic as well as early production (only about a year later than Beaumont). Once you’re into year 4, Nelmak 2 and Beaumont will produce around the same in terms of quantity.

General background: I unashamedly fell in love with this variety on a beautiful summer’s day in Empangeni. When I look back at previous articles, I see that I had actually met this chap on two previous occasions but, in one, he was just a baby, and the other was my first mac farmer interview so I was still battling to see the wood for the trees and get my head around an entirely new crop after being a sugar-baby for 18 years. So, in the sandy soils of Empangeni, it felt like love at first sight. The farmer concerned also confessed his admiration for 814 but was more sober to the fact that 814 was a “very nice to have” but only after you’ve built a reliable team of more consistent cultivars. 816 compares well with this cousin but lacks a little in terms of quantity when compared to 814 (2,5t/h vs 3,5t/h). The trees I fell in love with were 18 years old and thriving in very sandy soils so perhaps that’s a handy tip for anyone considering them for their farm. (Although the farmer I interviewed in Malelane said his young 816 and 814 trees were doing well in heavier soils. The Empangeni farmer did not find them particularly fussy trees and reported that they were very easy to prune.

Flowering happens mid-season. If you’re at a higher altitude, 814 is a good choice as it continues to deliver consistent TKR at elevation.

Farmers Comments: This is a thirsty cultivar though so probably best left out if you’re farming dry-land.

It has lovely, spreading lateral branches with wide crotches making pruning and training tasks easy.

Like its spoilt relative, 816, 814 likes to receive about 15 to 20% more nitrogen than other cultivars, especially when bearing fruit.

On the down-side, 814 takes forever to come into production, making them a study in patience and they are more susceptible to wind-burn, even more so than 816s.

General background: This variety brings excellent kernel quality to the table. Although the husk is thick and dense, TKR is over 45% with an average 51% whole kernel. To balance things out, it appears to be a little low on yield.

There are multiple flowerings, mostly early in the season. It is a well-shaped tree with a nice open canopy.

788 has a good tolerance for salt air and drought conditions and does well in cooler climates at lower altitudes.

Apparently this cultivar is relatively easy to graft but mustn’t be confused with the Nelspruit 788 which is a different variety.

Farmers Comments: Only 2 of the 7 farmers had 788. Both compared them to 816, saying that they are more prolific than 816 but not as high on the quality scale, coming in at a 41/42 % sound kernel average on the South Coast.

General background: Both 849 & 842 are quite popular in Nelspruit where temperatures can ‘get up there’.  TKRs are reportedly over 35%, even in these hot climates. 842 is known to have a slightly higher SKR than 849. Both bear in year 4, making them early earners.

Two flowerings are typical with the first being in July and the second a month later.

Both are quite open trees but 842 has a slightly more upright growth habit.

Farmers Comments: Again, only two farmers to report here. The first, in Nelspruit, was happy with the progress of his 849 but the second, in Malelane, regretted planting this variety – his were about 4 years old and nowhere close to bearing. I suspect that once they do come into production, their yield and crack-out may earn back his favour, especially if the production in the nursery he bought the seedings from is anything to go by – apparently these trees were in a class of their own in terms of quantity and quality nuts that the nursery sent to the processors.

General background: This is the only integrifolia cultivar grown in South Africa that has a similar early bearing age to the hybrid cultivars. For this reason it became very popular in the 1990s. An added attraction is that it not only bears early, it also yields good quantities at this early age.

791 exhibits extended out-of-season flowering which translates into an extended nut-drop period. There are reports of the husks tending to stick.

This cultivar requires intentional pruning as its branches tend to be long and thin and therefore susceptible to wind damage. It is possible to train the tree to grow side branches and develop a more dense canopy, with more bearing branches, thereby taking full advantage of its high yielding capabilities.

Farmers Comments: Only one farmer could give me feedback on 791. His trees are 18 years old and deliver a solid 4 tonnes/hectare yield every year, with a similar size and quality to Beaumont. He added some history on this variety: about 10 years ago, processors were reluctant to take them in because of their distinctive, endemic ‘791 spot’. Now, everyone understands that it is more of a ‘birthmark’ than any kind of defect and they are accepted. The trees are relatively hardy making them a brilliant early season addition to your stable.

That’s it on Cultivars – enjoy the summary version in the poster.

Next topic: Not sure how many of you have ever wanted to reference a particular topic on TropicalBytes but not known exactly which article would be relevant? Now there’s a solution: the Index! This wonderful resource will be built upon, as we add new articles, and enable farmers to easily search references to topics about which they have an interest.

Have a look …. here!

Aaaand, that’s a wrap for our January edition. I look forward to meeting many of you as I take a road trip up the coast, through Nelspruit, Tzaneen and on to Levubu, in February. I will be seeing many industry experts and top farmers, collecting content for the rest of the year. It’s very exciting and I look forward to delivering some valuable information for all our farmers, eager to improve.

Until next time …

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