Hope Hawke's Bay sustainable almond-growing study will show big wins for land and economy

A Hawke's Bay iwi hopes an almond-growing study in the region will result in unproductive Māori land finally turning a profit.

Scientists are looking at whether the region has what it takes to commercially grow the nutty fruit.

These are Tony Kuklinski's almond trees. He's been growing them in central Hawke's Bay for 12 years and now has several hundred.

"The flowering is going to be fantastic," he said.

What's also fantastic is he doesn't use pesticides, herbicides or irrigation.

"I've built up my organic matter content, therefore I'm storing more water and I planted the trees straight into that," he said.

The former dairy farmer is part of a Plant and Food Research study to see if almonds can grow sustainably in Hawke's Bay.

New Zealand imports more than $42 million of almonds a year - mostly from California, where farmers use up to 12 litres of water to grow a single nut. It's something scientists here want to avoid.

"With our knowledge around how trees perform and how we can manipulate the architecture of the tree, we think we can reduce water consumption quite significantly," said Ken Breen, from Plant and Food Research.

The project is also investigating the economic feasibility and consumer demands for locally grown almonds.

"We see smaller areas of production which are a lot more friendly to the local environment," Breen added.

The almond study is funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries, four local councils, Tony Kuklinski and Pic's Peanut Butter company, all hoping this little nut will be a big winner for the Hawke's Bay economy.

"You can sell them fresh, they can go into cereals, sell them as fresh nuts, create almond butter, almond oil - numerous options at this stage,"  Kuklinski said.

Options the local iwi wants to explore. Rangitane, a sub-tribe of Ngāti Kahungunu, has about 100 hectares of unproductive and unprofitable land near Waipawa.

"The condition of the land, kia tangi ahau. Okay I'm sad - and when someone puts up an idea like almonds I say why wouldn't we do it if it's feasible and can be done," Sandra Logan, from Ngāti Kahungunu, said.

She's urging her iwi to get on board.

"Surely there is something more for us here," she said.

Hoping this Māori-owned land can soon provide for its people and prosper.