Tea tree is back on the boil
From the edition of Agriculture Today.
A dramatic turnaround in demand for superior tea tree seed bred by NSW DPI at Wollongbar is signalling renewed interest in the tea tree oil industry.
NSW DPI tea tree breeder Gary Baker said the industry was starting to feel more optimistic about six to eight months ago and then a couple of very large producing properties went out of tea tree and into other activities.
'A perceived oil shortage has meant that demand for the highly improved seed is now exceeding our ability to supply,' said Mr Baker.
He said yield data from the first commercial trial of varieties developed by the joint NSW DPI-ENSIS breeding project had shown exciting results - exceeding the predicted best outcome of a 60 per cent improvement on the current industry standard.
'Tea tree plantations traditionally need to be ploughed up and replanted every 10 to 15 years as yields decline,' Mr Baker said.
'With these new varieties and renewed optimism in the industry, growers are doing their sums to assess the cost-benefit of planting new areas or replanting earlier,' he said.
With funding from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association (ATTIA), the research team at Wollongbar Agricultural Institute has worked on the breeding project since 1993.
The project began with field trials to determine the genetic variability in oil yield and quality from native stands and industry plantings.
'In the late 1990s, one of the trials was progressively culled of inferior trees to become a seedling seed orchard and together with a clonal seed orchard produced the first improved seed in 1999.
'Seed from these orchards, was expected to give improvements of 60pc by 2003 - but the gains were closer to 70pc.
'Using controlled-pollination techniques, elite seed was developed and used in the establishment of a second-generation seed orchard at Wollongbar Agricultural Institute which is expected to produce further gains very soon.'
Mr Baker said the breeding project had already distributed more than seven kilograms of seed to the industry, enough to plant over 1000 hectares.
'We’ve sold 150 grams, worth about $13 000, in the past month or two,' he said.
Along with the production of the improved seed, the team at Wollongbar is also continuing to investigate the technology required to multiply high-yielding clones of tea tree to make more true to type quality plants available sooner to industry.
'The advantage of cloning is that it gives a very predictable result,' said Mr Baker.
'It is an immediate genetic gain and when the clones are propagated in the field they have a very uniform oil yield and quality.
'For example, through cloning, we will be able to provide cuttings of the best plants from the seed that is producing 70pc gains to give gains of about 130pc.'
Contact: Gary Baker, Wollongbar, (02) 6626 1200.
- PHIL BEVAN
This story appears in Agriculture Today.