The almond is an ancient crop originating in central and South-western Asia and first introduced into South Australia in 1836, some five months prior to proclamation of the State. Early varieties arrived in Australia aboard the Duke of York and initial plantings occurred on Kangaroo Island, courtesy of a community of sealers.
Plantings were then made on the Central Adelaide Plains. This area was well suited to almond production by virtue of its climate, rainfall, fertile soils and relative freedom from frost, due to its proximity to the sea. From here plantings spread to the Southern Districts (notably Willunga) and later to the northern Adelaide Plains, with both areas offering similar conditions, although the latter had less rainfall. The Central Plains plantings have long since disappeared under urban expansion, while plantings in the Southern Districts and Northern Plains have remained largely static due to increasing land values associated with urban expansion and restrictions on the availability of bore water.
Almonds have been grown along the River Murray over the years, largely as boundary or headland plantings. In the 1960's and 1970's the industry in effect moved from the Willunga area, in particular to the River Murray irrigated areas which offered more potential.
Why the move? Suitable land was cheaper and more plentiful, the drier climate was even more suitable for almonds with less disease problems, warmer and sunnier spring weather gave more reliable setting of nuts, adequate water for irrigation was available, potential yields were higher, larger holdings allowed greater economies of scale and the Australian market was grossly under supplied at the time.
Australian almonds are still predominantly grown along the River Murray in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, with the major growing regions being the Riverland, Sunraysia and Riverina districts.
Today, the Australian almond industry is undergoing rapid expansion, becoming the fastest growing horticulture industry in Australia. Total Australian almond acreage has increased five-fold over the past eight years, from approximately 9,000 planted acres in 1999 to 62,000 acres in 2007.
Australian almond production in 2007 totalled 25,000 tons (kernel). Future production increases will bring productive capacity to in excess of 75,000 tons (kernel) by 2015.
The Australian almond industry supports the direct employment of over 1,200 people, primarily in the regional growing locations, with an additional indirect employment of a further 5,000 people.