A NUT cracking plant in the Riverina, expected to be worth around $10 million, is in the pipeline for Walnuts Australia.The facility, which will be capable of cracking around four tonnes of in-shell walnuts an hour, will allow the country's largest walnut producer to crack and pack locally for domestic and export markets.
Its walnuts are currently being cracked in Vietnam.
Walnuts Australia operations manager Derek Goullet said the Leeton-based plant would help the company quickly and efficiently produce kernel for the domestic nut market.
The company's business manager Tony Onley said there was diverse need for walnut kernels in Australia.
"Currently the market in Australia for in-shell walnuts is limited,'' he said.
"As we move towards cracking, we'll have more kernel to offer. We can develop a lot of new markets for kernel within Australia - it's needed in terms of snacking, cooking, for bakeries and confectionary.''
The plant would give Walnuts Australia greater control of its products and distribution chain as well, Mr Onley said.
"It will allow us to manage the whole process very efficiently and have control of when we crack the product. We can align that to demand,'' he said.
The Leeton facility, which is expected to be up and running by March 2014, will have the capacity to receive nuts from the field and clean, dry and store them.
Mr Goullet said Walnuts Australia would be looking to employ about 15 people per shift to run the facility to begin with, but this figure would grow as production increased.
The plant design and layout was still being finalised but its development was expected to cost around $10 million to $10.5 million, he said.
Walnuts Australia, a subsidiary of Webster Limited, manages 620ha of walnut orchards in Tasmania and 1615ha in the Riverina.
Mr Goullet said it was looking to develop another 1000ha in the Riverina next year.
Its current plantings number 11,000 tonnes of walnuts with its next orchid expected to increase to up to 17,000 tonnes.
Around 80 per cent of its products are exported, mostly to Europe and Asia, but it also markets in-shell nuts and walnut kernels domestically.