High-value spices get the go ahead in Northern Australia

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A small scale trial conducted by Central Queensland University has revealed three spice crops could be suitable for production in Northern Australia.

CQUniversity collaborators at BIFFMAC assessing kalonji trial crops in the Burdekin

The large-scale research study was spearheaded by CQ University, funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia and supported by seed company AgriVentis Technologies, and aimed at analysing the suitability for the inclusion of high-value crops in broadacre crop rotations in northern Australia.

The trial, which took place across commerical Queensland farms in winter of 2019, initially examined five high-value spice crops, assessing them for suitability as crops on Australian farms.

The study found three – kalonji, fennel and black sesame seeds – were suitable and will now be assessed on larger scale trials on commercial properties across the state. 

Trial crops of kalonji, also known as the Nigella Sativa, yielded more than three tonnes per hectare in Bioleola, 1t/ha at Rockhampton and Ayr but less than 500kg/ha in Darwin and Katherine.

By comparison, Turkey, the market leader for kalonji, produces an average yield of 980kg/ha while the international trading price is around US$2700/t.

The Australian trial of fennel produced a yield of almost 1.6t/ha in Ayr and 1.2t/ha in Katherine while other sites returned yields of less than 1t/ha. India, the market leader for fennel, averages 1.5t/ha with the international trading price around US$2400.

The trials showed black sesame had potential as either a winter or summer crop, with further tests to take place in the winter, following findings from earlier field trials and climate suitability analysis.  

Two other spices, cumin and kalijiri, did not perform well in the small plot trials and thus didn’t warrant further assessment, both yielding less than a tonne across the board - however the latter did encounter significant challenges throughout the process.

CQUniversity lead spice researcher, Assoc. Prof. Surya Bhattarai, is calling for growers from across northern Australia to participate in larger scale winter crop trials.

CQ University Associate Professor, Surya Bhattarai – the lead researcher on the project – says while the three spices showed potential in the country, they were not suitable across all areas of the north given the corresponding yields from each respective area which was influenced by each region’s climate and environment.

"For example, kalonji thrived in Biloela in Central Queensland, where we believe the cooler and drier winter conditions suited it better than areas like Ayr and Darwin," Dr Bhattarai says.

"Similarly, we believe fennel will work as a winter crop in Tully and Ayr, while black sesame shows potential to be grown as either a summer or a winter crop in Ayr, Tully and Darwin."

Following the small scale trial, CQ University is hoping to assess performance of the three high-value spices on a large scale to reflect authentic commercial production conditions.

To do so, the study is looking to gain expressions of interest from farmers within the regions to plant up to one hectare of the crop and work with the research team to assess performance.

Farmers who take part in the study will be provided the initial seed by AgriVentis free of charge as part of an agreement in which AgriVentis will buy the harvest crop from the farmer at the end of the season.

A minimum 0.5 hectare is required to research crop performance in conditions typical of larger scale production, to assess issues like harvest machine and weed pressure. 

However, farmers can plant more than 0.5 hectare should they wish to. 

Next year, the research will move to large scale production assessment to provide a critical mass to help get this new industry off the ground. 

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