Acotanc: Slide Show on Niche Tree Crops

Slide Show on Tree Niche Crops as the Saviour of Country Towns

Author: Phil Bellamy
E-mail: [email protected]

(It is hoped to add images of the Frames referred to at a later date)

Frame 1

Sliced bread is good for us. Vitamins and minerals were added to bread and all processed foods. Iodine was also added to salt helping to eliminate goitre problems.

Frame 2

So where does this lead us? The top diagram is nicotine; the second is nicotine acid and nicotinamide, which are booth known as niacin. So niacin is actually 2 chemicals. The reason I'm showing you these diagrams is that there is an Australian plant called Duboisia hopwoodii. It grows in my district in the eastern Wheatbelt. The dried leaf contains 3.5% nicotine. In actual fact we sent dried samples off to Rothmans who replied saying they were very excited and would like us to supply 1400 tons per month of dried leaf, because it's a herbal tobacco. 3.5% is what they have to breed the tobacco plant up to, so it was actually at the point where it was at its most addictive without killing anyone. Now this plant has this naturally. Rothmans was very excited because current legislation only relates to tobacco, so there's a window of opportunity of about 30 years before a whole new batch of cancers become evident and are related back to this plant. We didn't take up their offer. The technology converting nicotine into nicotinic acid is stuff you can do in the kitchen. It is a very easy thing to do and most people will have the ingredients in their kitchen. It is very high tech stuff. The market for niacin is over US$200 million annually. That is what we're looking at -- commercial crops using Australian native plants or plants that fit in or niche crops in Western Australia. AGWA and CALM have a program, which is the Oil Mallee program, which is a big niche. We're looking at some of the smaller niche crops.

Frame 3

This is the hopwoodii. It is very easy to find after a grasshopper plague. It's the only plant left as the nicotine in the plant kills grasshoppers. It's toxic also to blowflies -- we have tried it on them as an insecticide. The good thing about nicotine is that it actually breaks down very quickly in the soil. So the Australian mycorrhizae are very efficient at breaking it down. We're looking at growing the Duboisia but the problem we're having is obtaining seed. I heard Dave Bicknell talking about collecting seed and this particular seed is valued at A$1500/kg. He told us a story about someone collecting the seed who was effectively earning only about $4 an hour! It's very painful harvesting this stuff so we're doing some work on tip cuttings and will be starting our first plantation later this year with the intention of finding out whether we can grow this plant commercially. The interesting thing is that it grows on one of our problem soils. We didn't actually go looking for it, we actually went looking for a plant for a particular problem soil in our landscape to solve some of our landcare issues. This grows on white gum soil that is naturally saline. They are hard setting and very very low fertility. So we need to take them out of our cropping systems.

Frame 4

There are some olive trees planted on Starkey's property near Narembeen planted in 1904. They were planted according to local history, by Afghan camel herders. Camel trained people were taking stuff to the Goldfields. It was more likely that it was actually Italian migrants employed to clear the land. Again I should point out that Narembeen has an annual average rainfall of 300mm. We haven't had an average year for many years. So these trees are grown on a sand plain soil, which is a low productivity soil and they've grown without water and without any form of reticulation. The interesting thing is, the old plantings of olives, we've never found an example of wild plant. We think it is because the environment is so harsh that they are not going to escape into the bush. That is one of our concerns with the old plantings in the SouthWest. They don't actually have any commercial plantings yet but they've already got them in the bush. You can see what has happened in South Australia. You would think olives are a native plant.

Frame 5

This is again the one tree. The guy in the photo is Paul from Greece who reckons this is the biggest olive he has ever seen. It is a multi-stemmed tree, basically because it was planted in 1904, had no care so the trees just had to survive the beat way they could. The base of the tree is 20 feet across. It is one of the best timber trees I've ever seen.

Frame 6

This is quite a young planting. These trees are 28 years old, planted on Michael Finney's property. They yielded 16 kg per tree. They are non-reticulated and allowing for biennial berrying. People often say it's not possible but we weighed them. There are a lot of these little niches we can fill � small plantings. These trees were planted close to the house, and no netting against bird strike was ever done. The birds eat the top layer and anyway he had to reach up to them. They are a Frantoio type but we don't know what they are because they were probably brought into Australia illegally.

Frame 7

This is a planting at Buddy Kent's east of Dowerin. The interesting thing about this one is that it is a reticulated site. Buddy is replacing 9000 sheep with 56,000 olive trees. He put in a reticulation system for sheep then went out of sheep so we're using an existing situation. Again it's a nice little niche. The local farmers have grouped together to buy an olive press from Italy. It was sold in Italy because it was too small to be commercial. When it's out here, it will be the second largest press in Australia. Olives in the Wheatbelt is a niche crop but we're going to do all the value adding we can in the district. This is one of the key things for us.

Frame 8

This area here is 3 layers of trees planted across the landscape and also another 3 up here. This area is bare land. Greg tried to plant a crop in it and basically it is still bare land. But where the green part is, the crop, that went right through 180 acres of bare land. He never intended to crop it but next year it will go back into barley again. The trees and shrubs are edible. We want everything edible.

Frame 9

This area is Watson's place at Broome??? Rock 4 years after planting on bare scald. It's just a single row of trees and this area in here was just bare scald but now he's got a crop of wheat. So it's had quite a marked influence just a small number of trees and we grow the crop between rows of trees. The distance between these rows is 47.1 meters. We came up with this figure because it is the multiple of his header, his harvesting equipment and also some sprayer that he's wanting to buy. Hence the spacing and it seems to work. Eucalyptus occidentalis trees predominate and we put these trees in to lower the water table.

Frame 10

Yeoman's Stringybark at Mukinbudin which are 12 months old. Another planting in the creekline. We had to deal with the creekline because it was a landcare issue and it was going saline. There was a dam downstream of it and the dam had actually got to the point where it was lethal to sheep. It pickled them from the inside. What we're trying to do is hold the water up in the landscape so that only the fresh surface water runs into the dams. The Yeomans Stringybark contain rutin or vitamin P in the bark, which is used for treating hemophiliacs. Rutin is soluble in warm water and insoluble in cold water. So our treatment is we dry the leaves, powder them, boil them and cool them in cold water and then yellow crystals grow in the water. We harvest the crystals and sell them. This is a classic niche market crop. There are only 3 farmers doing this and this is as many as is needed in the market place at this time if we don't want to kill the market.

Frame 11

Again this is another niche crop -- Atriplex amnicola or River Saltbush. It is heavily grazed 3 times a year. What it has done for the farmer is add value to his income as he can now run about 5 times as many sheep as he could before. It is also a niche crop for other things as well, not just a niche crop for things we eat and consume ourselves. The Altriplex also lowers the water table and protects the soil by covering it up, thus allowing volunteer grasses to grow back. So we're getting a landcare and economic benefit, it's a niche crop and Gavin Thompson, the owner of this property, is going into fine wool. He's already got one small part of his flock walking around with coats on all the time to protect the wool. It's a bit weird, given our climate.

Frame 12

This is Acacia grown in rows for harvest. Again we allow cereal production in between. Trees are planted very close to the contour. We had originally planted exactly on the contour but the farmer decided to straighten it up so he had nice even rows. When we planted on the contour we had some uneven shapes which would have made harvesting a normal cereal operation difficult. Again this is our direct seeding one. Our first commercial plantings went in last year where we grew them all as seedlings and planted 3 rows 3 metres apart. These are saligna but the main one we use is Acacia microbotrya. We harvest the seed from microbotrya and use this as opposed to saligna because the saligna seed has to be heat treated before you can eat it. Microbotrya seed does not require any heat treatment before eating. We dry it, grind it and use it as flour in cakes, biscuits and pasta. We also harvest the gum, and when the tree is 20 years old, because that is all it is going to live for, we harvest the tree and then replant the site again. So it's continuously in crop. Growing Acacia for seed is profitable; growing Acacia for gum is marginally profitable depending on how keen people are to work. Harvesting it for timber is profitable. Because we have the 3 things together, it's a multi-use tree and we get lots of benefits from it. The other benefit is, we have lots of shelter in between these rows of trees and we're still getting a reasonable production off the trees. In this bare area here we found we had the problem of lateral root spread, much bigger than we thought we would get, and that is why we have gone to 3 rows because we found we still had this loss of land and so going to a bigger site, the percentage of land that was bared off got less and became more economic.

Frame 13

Again a different view of it. Our first mechanical harvester was the best machine for ripping trees right out of the ground every time, so we went back to the drawing board. Basically we rake the leaves; the seed forms on the outer 18 inches or so of the tree and we just rake the tree. There is a sled underneath which collects the seed and puts it into a hopper. We also collect a lot of dry leaf debris, which goes back to the shed and is graded. From that stage, if we want to, we can sell the product at this point. The yield on microbotrya in our test plots readily achieved yields of 500kg/ha. Acacia flowers are selling for about $60 per kilo. We've done all our calculations on Acacia flower, selling the flower for $8 per kilo. We are not using today's elevated price because in actual fact the price is false because there are not any in the market place, so we've gone for a lower price.

Frame 14

Another niche crop we're looking at is a range of herbal medicines. This Gingko biloba is in Manjimup on Pizzoto's farm. It has been planted in row crops because we're going to mechanically harvest the leaf. In this case we harvest all the leaf. We've developed some techniques where we can actually analyze the level of different sugars in the leaf, so if we're looking for a particular sugar we know that it peaks at 6 weeks after bud burst or whatever. So we can be quite selective with what we are doing. Most Gingko you find is actually the floor sweepings, leaves that have fallen on the ground, which they grind up and make into a powder, then they add some of the chemicals we extract. So most of the stuff you get is actually just 'hay'.

Frame 15

This is a fish farm in Coorong in South Australia using saline water. Coorong was one of the first shires to amalgamate 3 shires into one.

Frame 16

This is a pond inside one of the tunnels. They are growing Dunellia satina, an algae, in the water tanks of wastewater from the fish houses. It has 1000 uses and it is harvested for the yellow beta-carotene which is extracted from the plant. All our margarines, cakes, sponges contain this extract. What Dunellia needs to grow is salt water and sunlight. We have an abundance of both in the Wheatbelt; I'm just not sure why we're not growing it. There's a farm near Dampier of 300ha and one in Port Augusta in South Australia of 240ha, so these are niche crops and we should or could be growing it in the Wheatbelt using our abundance of salt water.

Frame 17

Pittosporum phylliracoides is an Aboriginal women's plant. Men were not allowed to know anything about it. It is very good for cramps and contains some painkillers that really need to be exploited. There's a whole new range of painkillers and our first new plantings of that go in this year as well.

Frame 18

Chamelaucium unanatum or Geraldton Wax. As a flower, we supply less than 10% to the market and most people in the flower market will tell you that it comes from Israel. It's a West Australian plant and WA produces less than half the Australian production. Who ever uses lemon essence or lemon grass in cooking? This is far superior. It is the best lemon flavoured food you will ever come across and I recommend you try it. Make some cream of broccoli soup and spice it up with this plant. Wonderful. It also makes a fantastic tea. We actually already have large plantations of it in the Dandarigin/Badgingara area that aren't being used. Again another moneymaker for the farmer.

This is the CSIRO book that has got just under 7000 Australian native plants listed in it that have commercial potential. So far we use 2 of them. Thank you.