Elong Elong an unlikely place for pistachio nuts to thrive

Diana and Richard Barton, "Murrungundy", Elong Elong, with some of their produce at the Mudgee Small Farm Field Days.
Diana and Richard Barton, "Murrungundy", Elong Elong, with some of their produce at the Mudgee Small Farm Field Days.

BRACED against the wind ripping across the Mudgee Small Farm Field Days farmers' market site, Richard Barton offers a potted history of how he and wife Diana became to be Australia's second grower of pistachio nuts.

Mr Barton is the fourth generation of his family to own "Murrungundy" at Elong Elong, a 200-hectare spread the name of which means 'happy playing ground'.

For many years he ran Herefords on the place, but now leases most of it to a Hereford stud.

About 40 years ago two Papua New Guineans turned up in Elong Elong, to escape the turbulent aftermath of their country's independence from Australia, and declared they would farm pistachios.

The climatic requirements of pistachios are extreme heat and cold and not too much water, preferring arid conditions over wet.

The PNG emigrants established a pistachio nursery but then parted ways.

Mr Barton was sold on the idea of growing these unusual trees and he found out where to acquire seed, an outlet in California.

Fortunately his cousin was a Qantas pilot and regularly flew to California and brought 4000 seeds home in his luggage.

Today the Bartons grow 4000 trees on 4.8ha.

"Once you know you can grow them, well then you've got to work out what to do with them," he said, looking over to his wife, who handles all the marketing.

The couple creates six different flavours of pistachio - from chilli to curry, salt and vinegar to salt and pepper - a jam and a relish all on farm from their raw output of 12 to 15 tonnes a year, eliminating any middleman.

Their products are distributed to 100 gourmet shops across Australia and online orders taken.

At harvest time the nuts are mechanically shaken onto tarps.

Mr Barton believes the trees' resilience can be accorded to their deep tap roots, which will drill down as much as 15 metres.

"You can never allow the tap root's growth to be hindered, if it is all you get is a dwarf tree," he said.

The trees are first grown for two years in a nursery, then planted out and grafted after another year in the ground.

Some visiting Mexicans taught Mr Barton how to graft trees and they insisted the grafting must be done in early spring on a full moon.

"I thought it was bulls**t, but it wasn't, there's something about the tilt of the Earth on a full moon."

Today there are only 25 registered pistachio growers in Australia.