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Episode 19: The Nut Farm

On the next episode screening June 21st 2014 at 7pm on TV ONE

The Nut Farm

By 90 years old, most of us will want to don our slippers, sit down and relax - but not Otto Muller.

He and his wife Valda grow walnuts in their Central Otago orchard, where Otto's inventions play a key role. 

Otto was born in Switzerland, where he studied engineering and agriculture. A desire to own a farm brought him to New Zealand 50 years ago. 

His research showed walnuts are one of the highest value crops per hectare - but traditionally they've needed a lot of labour at harvest time.

Being an engineer, he set about inventing and building machines to do the job for him. 

Otto's harvester, built from materials salvaged from the local junkyard, looks something like an Apollo moon-buggy and works by vibrating the tree till the ripe walnuts fall into a net and tumble into waiting tubs. 

It's cheaper and easier to run, says Otto, than the factory-made machines used on massive orchards in America and Europe. 

"The Americans use a separate shaker, a sweeper, and then a third machine for picking up the nuts. Our machine does the work of all three." 

Valda Muller is a former teacher and lecturer at Otago University - and a convert to walnuts. "Out of the current nut growers in New Zealand, we're one of the bigger producers," she says.

Valda does much of the hands-on work around the orchard. At harvest time, the nuts have to be sorted, dried and graded by size. 

Those tasks are made easier and quicker using three machines - also designed and built by Otto. 

When the couple were starting their walnut venture, they looked at buying a machine from France which could shell seven kilograms of nuts per hour. 

Not satisfied with this, Otto created his own version which can process 300 kilograms an hour. 

"If you want something done, tell Otto it's impossible. He can't resist a challenge!" says Valda. 

Today, the couple's 80-hectare block near Cromwell looks very different to the way it did 50 years ago.

"When I first came here, there were only three trees," Otto says, "but I could see the potential." 

Otto and Valda have realised that potential through hard work, ingenuity and patience.    
"If you're a walnut grower, you have to be able to visualise the future, because it takes a long time to see the rewards," Valda says. "Ultimately our tree canopy will cover the whole orchard. It is going to be a glorious park." 

Despite his age, Otto has no thoughts of slowing down. "I don't think of retiring; I would be bored stiff!" 

To contact Otto and Valda Muller, email

To find out more about the New Zealand Tree Crops Association, visit:

For more information on the Cromwell region, visit:


Frank Torley

Jeff Aldridge

Field Sound
John Patrick

Te Rurehe Paki

Colour Grader
Alex Wright

Sound Mixer
Ian Leslie

Post Production Manager
Bailey Palmer

Production Manager
Robyn Best

Vivienne Jeffs

Network Executive
Jude Callen

Dan Henry

Julian O'Brien