Business Rural Autumn 2021

| 3 RURAL PEOPLE » Uncle Joe’s Walnuts & Hazelnuts The nut business ... it’s only natural Virginia Wright U ncle Joe’s Walnuts & Hazelnuts is a family business in Grovetown, just north of Blenheim, run by Jenny and Malcolm Horwell. Their call- ing card is the naturalness of their products, which is at the heart of everything they do. What started as a business cracking walnuts to sell at the Nelson market has long since expanded and grown into something a lot bigger and more complex as Jenny explains. “We process walnuts and hazelnuts and we’ve expanded into cold pressed nut and seed oils and walnut & hazelnut spreads . All our products are 100% natural with no additives. The nut spreads are 100% nuts, no sugar or salt added. “Our cold pressed oils retain all the goodness of the nuts or seeds that they’re made from. We make gluten free flours from the defatted pellet left from cold pressing which has all the goodness and flavour of the nut or seed it is made from as well. “ The Horwells have come a long way since they started in 1996 with the two huge walnut trees over a hundred years old that came with the property when they bought it. They used to sell those to a man in Nelson and when they heard he was selling up they couldn’t resist. “He named his business after his Uncle Joe, who lived in Blenheim, and he used to sell his walnuts at the Nelson market. He’d made quite an elaborate hand-cracking system using a conveyor belt and three or four rollers. Walnuts were emptied from a hopper onto the conveyor belt, hand cranked under the rollers and then the shell and kernel separated by hand,” explains Jenny. Although they too started by selling at the Nelson market they were happy to leave it behind as their customer base grew along with the amount of Blenheim based Uncle Joe’s processes hazelnuts and walnuts and has expanded into cold pressed nut and seed oils and walnut and hazelnut spreads. walnuts they were processing, thanks to a growing supply from a number of Blenheim growers. By the early 2000’s they had branched out into hazelnuts, both planting their own trees and buying the nuts in. Each nut has different requirements - for exam- ple their hazelnut cracking system uses adjustable rollers so the hazelnuts need to be graded to size before they’re cracked. With walnuts, the tricky bit is getting the paper out from between the two halves. Their walnut pro- cessing was made easier by the purchase of some French cracking equipment, which was then sup- plemented by an air-separating system developed by a relation in Auckland who processed macada- mia. Eventually they bought the French separating system to work with the cracking equipment they already had to make the walnut line more efficient. Over the years most of the large walnut orchards in Blenheim have given way to vineyards so the Horwells now buy from people with smaller num- bers of trees in Blenheim and orchards in Canter- bury and further south. They also buy in hazelnuts to supplement the supply they now grow in their own orchard After an initial experimentation planting White- heart hazelnuts on some of their 1.9 hectares, they followed some local advice and planted the rest in the Ennis variety. It’s a large, tasty table nut from Oregon and grows successfully in the top of the south island. “Climate affects the crop production of hazelnuts and walnuts,” says Jenny, “so the Hazelnut Grow- ers Association is currently making a survey to establish which variety of hazelnut trees grow best in which region. There is a lot of interest in planting nut trees at the moment and this will help people get the figures they have budgeted for.” As far as the Horwells are concerned it’s the more the merrier. They see hazelnuts as a tasty nut that’s an easy crop to look after and they want more people to plant them as well as walnuts, or any nut at all for that matter. They’d like to see imported nuts decrease and locally grown nuts become more plentiful. Recently Uncle Joes, WalnutNZ and an auditor presented MPI with a detailed programme of risk assessments for the nut industry pertaining to the NZ Food Act, which is being worked through at the moment by MPI. “I really believe we all need to work together if we want to make things happen and develop our nut industry”, says Jenny.“There’s more younger people getting involved in the nut industry and they are keen to get the industry going , it’s quite excit- ing to see.” Hazelnut orchard. Inset: Malcolm and Jenny Horwell. Photo: Marlborough Express