In the USA, Australia and New Zealand – serious investors with serious money are putting tens of millions into Truffle Farms. One example is being led by multi-millionairess Susan Rice who recently planted 200 acres in North Carolina. The total investment is $25m, not a sum to be baulked at. After acquiring the land, the next biggest cost has been preparing the soil, by pouring on vast tonnage of agricultural lime and other additives.

“This is to get the soil something like the soil I naturally have here in Southern France” says Martin Waddell owner of Truffle Trees in France.  The truth is it will never be like the soil I have here, which is the world’s best and most proven truffle growing soil.” A further point Martin explains is that truffles from North Carolina will never gain the market value true Black French truffles will have because to the Chef’s and Gourmands who will pay £2,500 p/kg for this truffle, it must simply come from here. An interview with a US truffle expert on the syndicated New York radio foodie show “The Restaurant Guys” explained that US truffles were between 10% and 20% of the value of the Truffles Martin will be growing. Putting it succinctly, “You can only get Champagne from Champagne…the rest is fizzy white plonk in the eyes of the champagne lover.”

The good news according to Martin is that Truffle Trees in France are offering an opportunity for anyone to buy trees directly from him that he will plant, grow and manage for you on his plantation here in the world’s best and most proven truffle fields. Truffles on Trees I here you say…well yes and no. It’s actually the roots of trees that Truffles grow on, usually oak and hazelnut trees. Martin plant’s trees with the latest inoculation methods, from probably the world’s best laboratory and nursery source and all his husbandry and analysis is overseen by this same source. He’s lucky enough to live just over an hour from their nursery across the border in Spain.

Martin says you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits of a crop that can deliver very lucrative returns, growing the world’s most expensive food. You can expect an investment in ten trees of £999 and £299 annually thereafter to deliver a net profit of £34,659 @60g of truffles p/tree over 45 years. In this region, individual trees can produce in excess of 2kg, per annum, but patience is required.

But surely there must be a catch? Yes explains Martin, there’s still risk. “Historically truffle cultivation has been a very hit and miss business, with whole plantations failing to produce, whilst across the road crop yield can be well over 100kg p/hectare.” In the last few years, the science of inoculation has moved on significantly and so has related crop husbandry, combining to reduce risk of failure and dramatically enhance the quality and quantity of yields. An example is the Manjimup truffle farm in West Australia, which saw its 26 hectares planted in 1997 with a first truffle of 168grams in 2003 produce 3.3 tonnes in 2012. It’s results like this that are driving already successful and very astute entrepreneurs in the new world to invest large amounts of their own money.  

But Martin’s idea offers the ordinary person, who has maybe been hit hard in recent years by the performance of those they trusted to look after their money, to access this “rich man’s” opportunity. Martin points out that if you are from the UK, this is a Forestry investment and is free of income, capital gains and inheritance tax, so makes an excellent pension investment for you and gift settlement for your children. He explained that he has been advised his plantations will be carbon credit qualifying.

Max Lightfoot – AMB Cote d’Azur

23- April- 2012