Could this oilseed be a top Aussie crop?

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Could black sesame seeds be moving into your paddock? A research team based in Rockhampton is on its way to finding out.

Could this oilseed be a top Aussie crop?
Black Sesame seeds could be a top crop for Australia’s north. Image courtesy Alamy.


Researchers will soon harvest a crop of black sesame seeds being grown as part of a study on the oilseed's potential as a broadacre crop on properties in northern Australia.

Led by researchers from Central Queensland University and the Co-operative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia, the three year reserach project is investigating whether five high-value spice crops are suitable for inclusion in broadacre crop rotations in northern Australia. 

From our archives: Check out our profile of the team at AustChilli back in 2014.

The spices in question are cumin, caraway, kalonji - also known as nigella seeds, fennel and black sesame, with crops of both fennel and black sesame due to be harvested this year. 

Not to be confused with the white sesame seeds placed on top of hamburger buns or used to make tahini, black sesame is an oilseed used commonly in Japanese, Korean and Chinese desserts – including as a filling for rice cakes and as an icecream flavouring.

An early report by the researchers predicts global production of sesame seeds will rise from about 5.5 million tonnes in 2017 to about 9.3 million tonnes by 2040 - with China accounting for 2.6 million tonnes of that alone. 

Only 525ha of land in Australia was dedicated to growing both the white and black varieties of sesame when studies were last done in 2018, relative to global production of 9.9 million hectares, largely in Africa and Asia. 

At the time, CQUniversity associate professor Delwar Akbar says, the average sesame crop yielded 554kg/hectare, at an average price of US$1229 per tonne in 2018 – though black sesame returns were about 45 per cent higher on average than white sesame seeds.

"It could be a very attractive option for farmers if we can develop the right farming systems to support viable production," he says. 

"With China, Japan and Korea among the largest importers of sesame, Australia may have an advantage in both our geographic proximity and our clean green image, especially given that we have free trade agreements already in place with these countries," he says.

Nonetheless, an early report by the researchers says a combination of market factors, as well as environmental conditions and availability of suitable land, will determine whether the crop is viable.

While sesame plants are tolerant to heat and moisture stress, drought can affect germination, seedling growth and advanced development stages – making access to supplementary irrigation advantageous for those looking to grow it.

"Growing global demand, proximity to international markets, high crop prices, and access to suitable land and tolerance of Australian environmental stressors – ideally place Australian agriculture to establish a viable long-term sesame industry generating revenue through import replacement and export sales," the report states.


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