Wattle Seed workshop proceedings 

12 March 2002, Canberra 

Proceedings of a Workshop to Assess Prospects and Develop R&D Priorities for a Wattle Seed Industry 

edited by Sarah Simpson and Peter Chudleigh 

– Agtrans Research 

March 2003 

RIRDC Publication No 03/024 

RIRDC Project No WS012-06 

© 2003 Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. 

All rights reserved. 

ISBN 0642 58592 X 

ISSN 1440-6845 

Wattle Seed Workshop Proceedings: 12 March 2002, Canberra 

Publication No. 03/024 

Project No. WS012-06 

The views expressed and the conclusions reached in this publication are those of the author and not 

necessarily those of persons consulted. RIRDC shall not be responsible in any way whatsoever to any 

person who relies in whole or in part on the contents of this report. 

This publication is copyright. However, RIRDC encourages wide dissemination of its research, providing the 

Corporation is clearly acknowledged. For any other enquiries concerning reproduction, contact the 

Publications Manager on phone 02 6272 3186. 

Editors Contact Details 

Sarah Simpson and Peter Chudleigh 

Agtrans Research 

PO Box 385 

Toowong Qld 4066 

Phone: 07 3870 9564 

Fax: 07 3371 3381 

Email: info@agtrans.com.au 

RIRDC Contact Details 

Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation 

Level 1, AMA House 

42 Macquarie Street 

BARTON ACT 2600 

PO Box 4776 

KINGSTON ACT 2604 

Phone: 02 6272 4539 

Fax: 02 6272 5877 

Email: rirdc@rirdc.gov.au 

Website: http://www.rirdc.gov.au 

Published in March 2003 

Printed on environmentally friendly paper by Canprint 

ii 

Foreword 

Wattle seed (Acacia spp.) has been used as a food source by Australian Aboriginal people for 

thousands of years. More recently, there has been a small but increasing demand for wattle seed as 

part of the commercial bush food market. Further, Acacia spp. are often used in planting programs 

aimed at ameliorating land degradation. With this background it has been suggested that the 

opportunity for broadscale wattle seed production and use of wattle seed in mainstream food 

production industries such as bread and biscuit making as well as in animal feed industries be 

investigated as a commercial output of future plantings of perennial species to combat rising water 

tables and dryland salinity. 

This workshop was funded by— The Joint Venture Agroforestry Program of the Rural Industries 

Research & Development Corporation, Land & Water Australia, Forest and Wood Products 

Research and Development Corporation and the Murray Darling Basin Commission. 

This report, a new addition to RIRDC’s diverse range of over 900 research publications, forms part 

of our Joint Venture Agroforestry Program, which aims to integrate sustainable and productive 

agroforestry within Australian farming systems. 

Most of our publications are available for viewing, downloading or purchasing online through our 

website: 

• downloads at www.rirdc.gov.au/reports/Index.htm 

• purchases at www.rirdc.gov.au/eshop 

Simon Hearn 

Managing Director 

Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation 

iii 

Workshop Participants 

John Bartle Department of Conservation and Land Management, WA 

Jeremy Burdon CSIRO Plant Industry Centre for Biodiversity Research 

Peter Chudleigh Agtrans Research 

Barry Clugston Landholder, Victoria 

Sharon Davis Dryland Program, MDBC 

Hugh Dove CSIRO Plant Industry 

Mark Ellis Sustainable Resources, South Australia 

John Fisher NSW Agriculture 

Rick Giles Department of Conservation and Land Management, WA 

Bill Kerruish Honorary Research Fellow, CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products 

Yvonne Latham CSIRO Land and Water 

Charles Littrell Wattle Alliance Pty Ltd (also Director of Australian Native Produce 

Industries) 

Bob McCormack CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products 

Latarnie McDonald NSW Agriculture 

Deborah O’Connell Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation 

Graeme Olsen Olsen & Vickery, WA 

Michael Portelli Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Victoria 

Roslyn Prinsley Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation 

Maarten Ryder CSIRO Land and Water 

Tony Schlink CSIRO Livestock Industries 

Sarah Simpson Agtrans Research 

Peter Thrall CSIRO Land and Water 

David Topping Health Sciences and Nutrition, CSIRO 

Tim Vercoe CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products 

Ragini Wheatcroft Food Science Australia, CSIRO 

 

Contents 

Foreword ............................................................................................................................................ iii

Workshop Participants .........................................................................................................................iv

Contents................................................................................................................................................v

Acronyms and Abbreviations...............................................................................................................vi

Editorial Note .....................................................................................................................................vii

Executive Summary .......................................................................................................................... viii

Part1 

1. Introduction.....................................................................................................................................1

1.1 Background to the Workshop.....................................................................................................1

1.2 Workshop Objectives.................................................................................................................1

1.3 Opening Address ........................................................................................................................2

1.4 The Workshop Process...............................................................................................................3

2. Summary of Presented Papers and Related Discussion.....................................................................4

2.1 Summary of Presented Papers.....................................................................................................4

2.2 Questions and Discussion Following Presented Papers..............................................................9

3. Development of Discussion Topics.................................................................................................12

3.1 Introduction..............................................................................................................................12

3.2 Discussion ................................................................................................................................12

3.3 Discussion Groups.....................................................................................................................14

4. Outputs of Working Group Discussions .........................................................................................15

4.1 Wattle Seed in the Context of Other Perennial Crops...............................................................15

4.2 Market Prospects .......................................................................................................................16

4.3 Production Systems (1 million tonne market) ...........................................................................16

4.4 Production Systems (100,000 tonne market).............................................................................18

5. Plenary Discussion ..........................................................................................................................19

6. Conclusions and Recommendations................................................................................................21

Part 2: Invited Papers ..........................................................................................................................23

Economic Potential for a Wattle Seed Industry – S.L. Simpson and P.D. Chudleigh ....................23

Building a Large-Scale Wattle Industry – G Olsen.........................................................................29

The Opportunities for a Cultivated Acacia Industry – C Littrell.....................................................40

Genetic Factors Influencing a Wattle Seed Industry and Scope for Genetic Improvement 

 T Vercoe......................................................................................................................................45 

Opportunities and Constraints for Developing Large Scale Markets for Wattle Seed and its 

Components with a Specific Focus on Health and Nutrition – D Topping.....................................47 

Opportunities and Constraints for Developing Large Scale Markets for Wattle Seed and its 

Components with a Specific Focus on Food Processing – R Wheatcroft and R Kelly...................49 

Opportunities and Constraints for Developing Wattle Seed and its Joint Products as Animal 

Feeds –A.C. Schlink and R.A. Dynes .............................................................................................51 

Water Use and Sustainability of Acacia Crops in Southern Australian Agricultural Systems .......57 

– J Bartle, G Olsen and D Cooper...................................................................................................57

Options for Harvesting Wattle Seed – W Kerruish .........................................................................64

An Analysis of Possible Harvesting Systems for Acacia-Based Agroforestry – H Harris .............69

Appendix 1: Workshop Program.........................................................................................................74

Appendix 2: Profiles of Speakers........................................................................................................76

Acronyms and Abbreviations 

ABARE Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics 

AFFA Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia 

AGB Above Ground Biomass 

AGO Australian Greenhouse Office 

ANPI Australian Native Produce Industries 

CRC Cooperative Research Centre 

DMD Dry Matter Digestibility 

FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation 

FWPRDC Forest and Wood Products Research & Development Corporation 

GI Glycaemic Index 

GRDC Grains Research and Development Corporation 

GST Goods and Services Tax 

JVAP Joint Venture Agroforestry Program 

LWA Land & Water Australia 

MDBC Murray Darling Basin Commission 

NGO Non-Government Organisation 

NHT Natural Heritage Trust 

NSP Non-Starch Polysaccharide 

OMD Organic Matter Digestibility 

PD Protein Digestibility 

R&D Research and Development 

RFLP Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism 

RIRDC Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation 

USDA United States Department of Agriculture 

Editorial Note 

The Editors have taken some licence in their summarising of the various discussions held at the workshop. There were some comments that were inaudible on the transcript tapes and while every effort was made to identify speakers and their contributions, a few gaps are still likely to be evident. 

A draft of these proceedings was sent to all of the workshop participants and several comments were received and changes made. However, any remaining omissions, errors or misinterpretations remain the responsibility of the editors. 

While there were only nine papers actually presented at the workshop, a tenth paper on harvesting systems by Harry Harris is included as it was submitted to the workshop, however no presentation was able to be made. It is felt that this paper provides a valuable contribution to the outcomes of the workshop and is therefore included in these proceedings along with the other presented papers. 

vii Executive Summary 

The purpose of the workshop was to gather relevant parties together to further discuss the issues raised in earlier reports, and gain some consensus on the next steps necessary to assess the potential for a broadscale wattle seed industry. 

The specific objectives of the workshop were to: 

• Consider existing knowledge on production, processing and marketing factors in developing a wattle seed industry 

• Compare a broadscale wattle seed industry to other opportunities for commercial solutions to salinity and how it relates to the “Flora Search” initiative currently being developed 

• Determine future activities, including research and development (R&D), necessary for the large scale commercialisation of a wattle seed industry 

A key principle driving the workshop was its focus on revegetation of large tracts of land with a broadscale wattle seed industry, not on a small industry with niche markets. 

The papers presented covered broad considerations such as factors driving economic potential and industry opportunities. Other papers focused on genetics; health, nutrition and food processing markets; prospects for harvesting systems; and the implications of using Acacias for lowering water tables. 

General discussion was wide ranging until the workshop broke into four groups, each addressing one of the following four topics: 

1. Wattle Seed in the Context of Other Woody Perennial Crops 

2. Market Prospects 

3. Production Systems (1 million tonne market) 

4. Production Systems (100,000 tonne market) 

As a result of these discussion groups and a final plenary session the following conclusions and recommendations were developed: 

1. There is not sufficient information currently available to make conclusions about the potential for a broadscale wattle seed or Acacia industry. The most limiting factor is knowledge about the nature or size of the markets that wattle seed may be able to supply. 

2. Large-scale agroforestry industries are of most interest to the Joint Venture Agroforestry Program (JVAP). Until the market prospects for wattle seed are more conclusively addressed, it is difficult to assess whether a wattle seed industry could grow to a broadscale industry. 

3. The prospects for a broadscale wattle seed industry need to be assessed further before a decision to support R&D funding from JVAP for developing a wattle seed industry is made. In particular: 

(a) a balance needs to be developed between developing a wattle seed industry per se, developing an “Acacia” industry where wattle seed is viewed as an opportunistic by-product, and other commercial prospects for non-Acacia perennial species that address sustainability issues. 

(b) a decision will need to be made by the Rural Industries R&D Corporation (RIRDC) as to whether JVAP, or the sub-program based on bush foods is the most appropriate funding source for R&D. 

4. To assist with these decisions, and to further the development of a wattle seed industry, it is recommended that further R&D activity should be undertaken in phases. 

5. The first phase should consist of the following research activities: 

(a) An urgent consideration should be a marketing study that establishes current and future demand for certain food ingredients, including community health needs and diet preferences. A part of this would be the size and value of particular markets that could potentially be serviced by wattle seed eg mung beans, chickpeas etc. Such a study should include not only products from the seed, but also other parts of the tree such as gum exuded from the trunk, the seed pods and the leaves. Both human and animal nutrition markets should be considered. 

(b) At the same time, an initial scientific analysis of the nutritional and functional constituents of selected species should be undertaken to determine which of the potential markets identified can be serviced by wattle seed or other Acacia products. 

(c) A review of the legislative and regulatory aspects of developing food ingredients will also be essential as part of this first phase of research. 

(d) In keeping with an integrated systems approach, desk-top research should continue on the nature and economics of potential production systems. Variables to be considered would include establishment, layout, density, plant shape, harvesting mechanism, fertiliser and pest control. 

6. Following the completion of these Phase 1 research activities, a decision should be made as to whether further industry development of any type is feasible. If it is determined there is some potential, a decision should be made as to the potential market or markets to be targeted, and the potential size and likely value of these markets. This will determine the nature of any further research, and whether that research is appropriately funded through JVAP or through some other sub-program. It is recommended that breeding or field trials would be delayed until the Phase 1 studies have been completed, and potential target markets have been identified. 

7. If appropriate, once the target market(s) has been determined, and if the overall prospects for market penetration and commercial profitability appear favourable, a systems based research program focusing on species selection and breeding for nutritional and growth characteristics should be undertaken. Selection should consider not only the required nutritional characteristics, but also the desired tree shape and water use characteristics. This breeding program should include field trials. 

8. Once it has been determined what tree shape is possible within an envisaged production system, a mechanical harvester and planting system should be developed that maximises cost efficiencies, as well as sustainability benefits. It may be preferable to design the harvester in conjunction with Step 7 above. 

1. Introduction 

1.1 Background to the Workshop 

Wattle seed (Acacia spp.) has been used as a food source by Australian Aboriginal people for thousands of years. More recently, there has been a small but increasing demand for wattle seed as part of the commercial bush food market. Further, Acacia spp. are often used in planting programs aimed at ameliorating land degradation. With this background it has been suggested that the opportunity for broadscale wattle seed production and use of wattle seed in mainstream food production industries such as bread and biscuit making as well as in animal feed industries be investigated as a commercial output of future plantings of perennial species to combat rising water tables and dryland salinity. 

Recent interest in wattle seed includes a report commissioned by RIRDC titled “Wattle Seed Production in Low Rainfall Areas” (Simpson and Chudleigh, 2001). The aims of that report were to: 

1. Investigate the potential for broadacre wattle seed production in the medium to low rainfall areas of southern Australia, 

2. Assess the implications for resource sustainability, and 

3. Determine the potential for use of wattle seed as a substitute for wheat in bread making. This was followed by a report by Graeme Olsen of Olsen & Vickery (unpublished) titled “Can we build a large-scale wattle seed industry?” The purposes of that review were to: 

1. Examine the potential for wattle seed to become a large-scale agricultural crop in the low to medium rainfall zone of southern Australia. 

2. Discuss crop development pathways, and farming systems within which wattle seed could be grown. 

3. Identify the key issues to resolve. 

4. Suggest a mechanism for research and development. 

In addition, there had been recent commercial interest in developing a broadscale wattle seed industry from a group called “Wattle Alliance Pty Ltd”. 

1.2 Workshop Objectives 

The purpose of the workshop was to gather relevant parties together to further discuss the issues raised in the above reports, and gain some consensus on the next steps necessary to assess the potential for a broadscale wattle seed industry. 

The specific objectives of the workshop were to: 

• Consider existing knowledge on production, processing and marketing factors in developing a wattle seed industry 

• Compare a broadscale wattle seed industry to other opportunities for commercial solutions to salinity and how it relates to the “Flora Search” initiative1 currently being developed 

• Determine future activities, including R&D, necessary for the large scale commercialisation of a wattle seed industry 

1 A project supported by the JVAP, Murray Darling Basin Commission and the Cooperative Research Centre for Plant Based Management of Salinity. This project will systematically search through Australia native species to identify those with potentially useful products suitable for cultivation. 

1.3 Opening Address 

The workshop was opened by Roslyn Prinsley, General Manager of Research for RIRDC, and leader of JVAP. The opening address sought to set the context for the days discussion in terms of the JVAP’s activities and priorities, and further reinforce the desired outcomes for the day. 

JVAP was established in 1993 as a collaborative undertaking of RIRDC, Land & Water Australia (LWA) and the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation (FWPRDC). Since 1993 additional funding has also been received from Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Australia (AFFA), the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT), the Murray Darling Basin Commission (MDBC), the Grains R&D Corporation (GRDC) and the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO). The Program’s current expenditure is around $3 million per annum. 

The role of JVAP is to coordinate, manage and communicate R&D, particularly development of new tree based farming systems and industries. 

It is recognised that trees are definitely part of the answer to solving salinity, biodiversity, greenhouse and other environmental problems and that strategically located tree planting can help to address these problems. 

Some conservative estimates say that twenty percent of the southern wheatbelt needs revegetating to combat salinity, although others claim this figure is as high as eighty percent. If it is assumed that the southern wheat belt is 100 million hectares, and that tree plantation establishment costs are around $1000 per hectare, then this results in a tree establishment bill of $20 billion which government subsidies can not support. Therefore it becomes evident that commercial tree crops are needed to pay for at least part of that revegetation. 

There is also the need for diversification of industries in the low to medium rainfall areas and it is felt there are currently only few commercial industries that can be used as a basis for this commercialisation. 

JVAP is investing in scanning and assessing various tree products, for their economic viability in the low to medium rainfall areas. 

JVAP currently has a project considering regional scale economics and the viability of production systems for a range of products. Factors such as the size of market, size of processing plant, raw materials, economic transport distances and production costs are all being considered. 

One of the objectives of this workshop is to look at wattle seed as an industry in the context of other potential industries – is it going to work? And if it is going to work, what is required to make it work? 

Another point to keep in mind is that the JVAP focus is not on niche products or small markets – rather on opportunities which have the potential to drive the revegetation of 100 million hectares. Unfortunately JVAP can not afford to spend money on many very small industries. Therefore if it is decided that there is no potential for a broadscale industry, then further consideration of a wattle seed industry would shift to RIRDC’s bushfoods program which addresses the development of niche products. 

1.4 The Workshop Process 

A copy of the Workshop Program can be found in Appendix 1. The workshop commenced with the brief address by Dr Roslyn Prinsley. This opening address set the context for the day’s discussions, in terms of JVAP’s scope, and the role that a wattle seed industry would need to fulfil. 

The opening address was followed by the presentation of a series of invited papers from a total of nine speakers. These papers covered a range of issues relating to a potential broadacre wattle seed industry, from the genetics of the seed through to high level processing and markets, and including sustainability aspects. 

Copies of the papers are provided in Part 2 of this document. Profiles of each of the authors are provided in Appendix 2. 

Following the presentation of all nine papers, a plenary discussion was held with the aim of establishing four or five key topics which needed further consideration, and that could be addressed in working groups in the afternoon session. 

Following lunch, the workshop divided into four separate working groups and following about an hour of discussion, each of the groups reported back on conclusions of their group, including potential R&D priorities. 

The day concluded with a plenary session that had the aim of determining some further directions for the development of a wattle seed industry, and identifying the most important R&D priorities. 

2. Summary of Presented Papers and Related Discussion 

2.1 Summary of Presented Papers Economic Potential for a Wattle Seed Industry (by Sarah Simpson and Peter Chudleigh) 

This paper draws heavily on the report titled “Wattle Seed Production in Low Rainfall Areas” (Simpson, S. and Chudleigh, P., June 2001). This report was the result of a desktop study commissioned by RIRDC in late 2000. 

The aims of this study were to investigate the potential for broadacre wattle seed production in the medium to low rainfall areas of southern Australia while considering the implications for resource sustainability, and the potential for wattle seed to penetrate large-scale markets. 

The following conclusions were drawn: 

• It may be possible to develop niche or intermediate markets for wattle seed (eg increased bushfood demand, low glycaemic, specialty flours, oils). High volume markets such as starches, vegetable proteins etc would also be possible but would depend on seed being able to be produced at very low cost, for example significantly less than $1 per kg. It may also depend on some unique properties being discovered to ensure wattle seed is competitive. 

• Interactions with harvesting, species selection and co-products are very important when considering characteristics of production systems such as layout. 

• Wattle seed production could contribute to increased water use over annual crops and pastures. However the extent of such contribution to lowering groundwater tables and reducing the impact of salinity has not been quantified. 

• Harvesting is a key cost component and a significant driver of the economics of wattle seed production. There are several harvesting options that can be explored.

 • The three key drivers of the economic viability of wattle seed production are the harvesting method and subsequent cost, the yield and the farm-gate price. Some scenarios show promise of being economically viable, however it is stressed that the assumptions used in the economic analysis are indicative only, and further work is required in order to confirm or identify more accurate parameters. 

Building a Large-Scale Wattle Seed Industry (by Graeme Olsen) 

A large-scale wattle seed industry, based on suitable species in the Acacia genus, could provide substantial land management benefits in dryland agricultural areas in southern Australia. This paper discusses market opportunities for wattle seed, and some production issues that determine its potential profitability. 

Wattle seed could be sold in a number of different sized markets, ranging from niche markets for bushfood and other specialty uses, to small to medium-sized markets for nuts, snack foods and pulses, and large markets for staple grains, oilseeds, food ingredients and stockfeed. At each step up in market size there is a corresponding step down in market price. 

The development of row-crop harvesters should bring significant reductions to harvesting costs for the wattle seed species in current use. This harvester development path could suit a small to medium-sized industry based on high value seed, but it will reach its limits long before becoming competitive with broad acre grain production systems harvested by headers. 

A more promising development pathway for large-scale crops is to develop a wattle crop with a different morphology – one that has many features in common with broad acre crops, enabling it to be grown in paddock layouts, and to be harvested by equipment with similar efficiency to conventional grain harvesters. Desirable features in the plant include short stature, reasonably erect form, high ratio of seed production to vegetative growth, formation of pods and seeds at or near the top of the plant, large seed size, synchronous seed ripening, and reduced or inhibited pod shattering. 

When developing a new crop, it is important that key aspects of farming system design are considered simultaneously. Important issues for wattle seed development are species selection, crop design, management methods and harvester development. 

At a broader level, requirements for new crop development include: 

• suitable germplasm 

• efficient, integrated farming systems 

• appropriate growing, harvesting and processing technology 

• acceptable product quality 

• market penetration 

Does wattle seed have the potential to become a major food crop? It’s too early to say, but further investigation is warranted. Acacia is an extremely diverse genus, with about 1,000 different taxa identified in Australia. A proper investigation of this variability may find suitable species or populations from which successful new crops can be developed. 

In conclusion, it seems likely that further development of existing tall wattle seed species and associated harvesting technology will enable the industry to grow from a niche industry to a small industry, but this pathway will not lead to the development of a large industry. To achieve that goal, and its associated land management benefits, a different development path is needed – one that selects and develops new germplasm better suited to efficient management and handling. 

The Opportunities for a Cultivated Acacia Industry (by Charles Littrell) 

Australia’s rural economic, ecological and social strategies helped convert a distant penal colony into one of the world’s richest countries. These strategies are proving unsustainable over the long term, however, and to remain a rich country Australia needs to develop new rural land uses. 

This note discusses one candidate strategy: growing Acacias for human food, through wattle seed production. 

Australian Native Produce Industries (ANPI), the leading firm in commercialising native food plants, has committed human and financial capital to developing the wattle seed industry. ANPI intends to build a public/private consortium to conduct initial R&D. 

To develop its first generation production system, ANPI must secure answers to the following questions: 

a) Food Science. What are the seed’s macro and micro nutrient properties, anti-nutritive properties, and potentials for use on a stand alone and ingredient basis? What special properties, if any, do wattle seed kernel, hull, and oil possess? The answers to these questions determine the likely maximum and minimum wattle seed price in commodity production volumes. 

b) Production and Yield. Which species make the best foundation for a commercial Acacia industry? How should we efficiently establish these species, and in particular what microbial and other sub-soil preparation is necessary for establishment? What production systems (grid pattern, co-production plants, cultivation techniques) are likely to work best? What yields might we expect in commercial cultivation? 

c) Harvesting Cost. What harvesting and post-harvesting systems are likely to produce the best production cost outcome? 

d) Environmental effects. How can we ensure that Acacia’s environmental benefits as a wild plant are maintained in commercial cultivation? How do we value these benefits in economic terms? 

e) Forest products strategy. How can we manage and maximise the economic outcomes from Acacia coppicing by-product? 

f) Plant Selection and Improvement Strategy. How do we select our initial cultivars for first generation production? How do we then move to improved commercial hybrids? 

ANPI is confident that food-oriented Acacia cultivation is a legitimate candidate, hopefully among many candidates, to replace some existing rural land use with more profitable and sustainable new uses. We are now moving from pre-feasibility to first phase R&D on this candidate. 

Genetic Factors Influencing a Wattle Seed Industry and Scope for Genetic Improvement (by Tim Vercoe) 

Acacia is an extremely diverse plant group in the Australian landscape with 1165 taxa (Flora of Australia Volume 11A and B). There are forest trees reaching over 30 m in height, shrubs and ground covers, and the genus is represented in most major Australian ecological regions. Fewer than 100 taxa have been documented as producing edible seeds eaten by Aboriginal people, but the genus is a major food source for native fauna. 

Based on previous work with these and other species, the seed improvement process would proceed along the lines of -

1. Systematic sampling from a set of natural provenances to capture the genetic diversitypresent across the geographic ranges of target species/species complexes. 

2. Evaluate species and provenance performance in well-designed field trials to yield information on environmental tolerances, seed yields and seed nutritional factors. 

3. Identify best natural provenances and establish further experimental plantings. 

4. Make selections (either by collecting seed, or by vegetative propagation) from initial trials and later plantings of best provenances, based on an understanding of population diversity and some readily measured productivity and nutritional parameters. 

5. Use the selections to establish breeding populations (for outcrossing species) or, in the case of self-fertilizing or apomictic species, for multiplication gardens where seed of desirable genotypes is multiplied. These stands would form the breeding population for intensive selection and breeding. 

6. In some cases it may be possible to develop the first experimental plantings (activities 2 and 3 above) into interim seed production areas. 

Opportunities and Constraints for Developing Large Scale Markets for Wattle Seed and its Components with a Specific Focus on Health and Nutrition (by 

David Topping) 

Most of the current drive to grow and use wattles seems to be agronomic, for example drought resistance, soil improvement capacity etc. The sole existing nutritional attribute of Acacia plants in a western industrial context is the exudative gum (Gum Arabic) from Acacia senegal. Scarcity of this gum could assist in developing an Australian industry around wattles however it is unlikely to be enough by itself to sustain a broadscale industry. 

The potential useful fractions of the Acacia plant for food and medicinal use include: 

- Gums and mucilages (seeds, exudates) – food ingredients 

- Leaves – forage, tannins 

- Seeds – protein, gums for food use 

Some of the overarching issues are: 

• The cost to benefit ratio for producing a food ingredient like soluble non-starch polysaccharides (NSP) is high, that is a high cost for limited benefit. However if a potential anti-cancer agent were discovered, the costs would be low relative to the eventual benefit. 

• Speed to market is a major issue and depends on the need for toxicology or substantiation. Food processors are unlikely to be interested in assisting the development of a food ingredient that will be costly and will take a long time to reach the market. 

• If it is considered a novel food or ingredient, then there may be constraints in terms of proving safety or efficacy. 

• Supply may be a constraint. For example, will it be possible to produce enough wattle seed or gum to guarantee a reliable supply to the appropriate markets. 
Opportunities and Constraints for Developing Large Scale Markets for Wattle 

Seed and its Components with a Specific Focus on Food Processing (by Ragini Wheatcroft and Rachel Kelly) 

The protein, fat and carbohydrate components of wattle seed are comparable to pulses, particularly chickpeas. The wattle industry will most likely compete with other pulses. The current status of the wattle industry is: 

• 6 tonnes of wattle seed is utilised, though there is an existing demand for 12 tonnes. The nearest pulse category in terms of volume is mung beans (17,000t ethnic food, bean sprouts) 

• comparable nutritionally to pulses 

• anti-nutritional factors have been reported 

• nothing is known as regards allergenicity or digestibility 

• the level of processing is low 

• markets are likely to be based on speciality and novelty, eg green clean image to place it in a different category to chickpeas as a high value, trendy bush food for restaurants, rather than an Asian commodity export. 

• cost of wattle seed is $35,000/tonne compared to $250/tonne for chickpeas 

The limitations to a large scale market include: 

• A technological breakthrough is required to support development of new markets for wattle seed ingredients. 

• Does wattle seed have a competitive advantage, for example there will be competition from pulses? 

• Can wattle seed produce ingredients that meet sufficient functionality needs for many applications? 

• Can wattle seed be produced at a cost that allows it to be sold at a price the consumer is willing to pay? 

• Will geography be an issue? For example, considerations are shipping costs, handling and storage stability, shelf life. 

Opportunities and Constraints for Developing Wattle Seed and its Joint 

Products as Animal Feeds (by Tony Schlink and R.A. Dynes) 

Trees and shrubs have long been considered important for the nutrition of grazing animals in Australia, particularly where the quantity and quantity of pastures is poor for pronounced periods. Foliage, seeds and pods from trees and shrubs have the potential to provide both protein and energy supplements during the annual feed gap in Mediterranean environments or during droughts. Several Acacia species are recognised by graziers for their drought feeding value. The economic value of these species to animal production will depend on when the nutrients are available (i.e. does foliage/seed/pod production match feed gap or drought) and the concentrations of essential nutrients and secondary compounds. 

Animal utilisation of Acacias in farming systems could be improved through selection of Acacia species, which will establish and provide feed for livestock during feed gaps and droughts, providing issues of fodder accessibility and secondary compounds are overcome. Successful selection will require simultaneous determination of yield, nutritional and anti-nutritional factors for ruminants followed by animal studies. To-date the potential of Acacia species for animal production has not been studied in any systematic fashion to determine the potential of any of these species for animal production in Australia. This situation exists despite the extensive use of the species in periods of nutritional stress and increased plantings of Acacia species of unknown nutritional value for potential livestock production. 

Water Use and Sustainability of Acacia Crops in Southern Australian 

Agricultural Systems (by John Bartle) 

Acacia is a large and diverse genus with a wide range of plant form and function. It provides a large base from which to select germplasm with potential for commercial development. Selection of germplasm can be approached from two directions: 

• selection based on biological characteristics that are desirable for a crop plant. 

• selection based on the potential for production of commercially attractive materials. 

These two categories of selection criteria are interrelated, i.e. the biological potential may help determine what the best product might be, or alternatively, the desired product will influence the selection of biological attributes. 

By far the dominant objective in the development of new crops is scale. If we are to entertain remedy of the serious problems of salinity and sustainability in southern Australian agricultural systems, then we must be thinking of new ‘sustainable’ crops that could be planted on a very large scale. These crops will need to have a presence, at least intermittently, on virtually every hectare of agricultural land. Hence this overview will focus on Acacia as a source of germplasm that might have very large-scale application. It will approach this from the direction of the biological attributes of Acacia that will be desirable for large-scale crop plants. 

The genus Acacia will not be the only candidate to be scrutinised for sustainable crop development prospects. The task of developing perennial crops to help make Australian agriculture sustainable will take a couple of generations and many millions of dollars of R&D investment. However, this investment should, at every stage and for every option, be based on rigorous assessment of likely comparative return on investment in the long term. 

Hence the question addressed in this overview is – what biological attributes of Acacia make it attractive for crop development and what are the most prospective directions for investment in Acacia 

R&D? 

Options for Harvesting Wattle Seed (by Bill Kerruish) 

Simpson and Chudleigh (2001) refer to four general concepts. These included: the traditional manual method used for harvesting seed for speciality foods, individual tree shakers as currently used for olives and some nut crops, and continuously moving strippers and biomass harvesters that would move along a row or rows of plants. 

In this presentation the traditional or mechanised methods of harvesting individual trees are not included as they are inappropriate to the large scale, low cost harvesting of such a crop. A continuous moving machine is considered necessary for the efficient harvesting of small trees (Kerruish 1976) and the likely costs of harvesting wattle suggested by Simpson and Chudleigh tends to confirm this decision. 

The options considered fall into two categories, those that harvest seed only and those that harvest some or all of the above ground biomass to recover the seed, with the remaining components being harvested for some other product or returned to the site. 

Important gains may be made in plant breeding and cropping trials but the best outcome will be achieved by pursuing this goal in partnership with the ongoing analysis of operational alternatives. 

Further work should involve: 

• The selection of species most suitable for seed production and the establishment of trials to establish likely cropping patterns. 

• The continuing analysis of different technical solutions and management strategies, drawing on the best available biological, operational and economic information. 

Examples of such analysis are provided to suggest how this might be done. 

The developing and testing of critical components, such as mechanisms for dislodging and recovering seed from growing plants, should proceed after further work on crop development and the identification of the more promising cropping patterns have been explored. 

2.2 Questions and Discussion Following Presented Papers 

Following every second or third presentation, workshop participants were given the opportunity to ask questions of the speakers, or make comments on the presentations. Some of the key themes, clarifications and additional material to come out of those discussions are presented below. 

Production on Least Productive Land 

There was debate as to whether a wattle (or any other agroforestry species) production system can in fact be productive if it is established on the least productive land in a paddock or property, as has been proposed as an initial establishment option. The point was made that Acacia plantings for wattle seed production are initially likely to occur not on the least productive land, but on the land least profitable for grain production. This relates not only to the soil productivity and structure, but also the landscape and geography. In addition, Acacia requires less inputs than wheat and is more robust to mistreatment. In many cases it is a pioneer species. However, it was further pointed out that there is a difference between survival and productivity. 

An additional aspect introduced was that one should be looking at the profitability of the whole farming system. For example there are desirable reasons for alley farming and this may present a niche to grow wattles on productive and profitable land by integrating farming practices. The grazing of cattle or sheep between rows can change the entire economics of production. 

Other solutions to ensure maximum economic benefits without a large opportunity cost in terms of taking good land out of grain production include: 

• if wattles are planted in areas that recharge water tables under good wheat land, then they can reduce the watertable under the productive wheat land, improving the sustainability and future productivity of the farm as a whole. 

• the consideration of different soil types – some soils are not productive in terms of grain production, but can still be considered productive for other species, including native forest species. For example, some of the Western Australian sandy soils have poor wheat crop returns, but hold wood crops quite well. 

Brief mention was made that Acacia for wattle seed production is only one alternative for establishment on these ‘less productive’ lands and that wattle may compete with other forest crops eg wood fibre. However other participants did not consider wattle a competitor to oil mallee and other forest crops. They pointed out that diversity will be important and there will not be ‘one big idea’ for land use. In response to this, the original point was clarified that wattle seed will be competitive with oil mallee etc in terms of scarce R&D money and therefore money will have to be channelled into the ‘best bang for the buck’. 

Tree Density 

There was some concern that the stems per hectare in the economic analysis of the Simpson and Chudleigh report is too high, and the 625 stems per hectare assumed would more likely relate to an irrigated option. An alternative assumption of density was 400 stems per hectare. There was also concern that the assumed yield would be difficult to obtain in a dryland situation. It was acknowledged that this may be the case, and that the yield assumption was based on an improved, not wild, stand of trees. That is, the yield assumptions pertained to a future production system following a significant amount of research and development. 

Size of Competing Markets 

In several of the presentations, statistics were presented to demonstrate the current size of the markets for various commodities to show the potential size of the industry in which wattle seed may compete. Examples of commodities considered most appropriate to target included beans, chickpeas and other legumes. There was some significant differences, however, in the size of the markets presented from different sources (United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)) and this was the subject of some discussion. It was postulated that the FAO statistics most likely related to commodities traded internationally, while the USDA statistics most likely related to commodities traded both domestically and internationally. The difference in these statistics is important as what is sold within a nation is generally not sold at the same price as exports, therefore it is important to compare the size of markets that can be targeted for a certain price. 

Following this discussion, it was suggested that the critical first phase research should be food and nutrition and initial processing. The kernel, oil and husk are separate products and it needs to be determined what can they be used for and at what price. This would then determine the production system to be developed, that is, whether competition is with pulses or whether animal feed markets are being targeted. 

Pests and Diseases 

It was pointed out that many of the presentations seemed to wrongly assume that as Acacia is a native species, and already adapted to Australian conditions, there would be few pest or disease problems associated with the production system. It is in fact the case that any species planted in a broadacre, monoculture situation will develop pest and disease problems. Workshop participants acknowledged this and indicated pest and disease management would be a consideration in the development of the production system. 

Establishment Costs 

Various presentations included estimates of $300 to $380 for establishment costs. Some workshop participants knew of farmers who were establishing Acacias for a fraction of that cost with direct drilling. While a more precise breakdown of this figure could not be provided, it was stated that it was based on a contractor rate of what an investor would pay, rather than what growers could establish Acacia for with their own equipment. The $300 figure was also more applicable to direct drilling of eucalypt seed that is very small and is more trouble to protect from weeds and insects. Acacia in general may have a lower establishment cost than that quoted as it has a significant advantage as a source of domestication due to its large seed size factor. 

Harvester Development 

There was a debate over approaches to harvester development. One approach is to adapt harvesters that already exist on the farm for the purposes of grain harvesting. However to do this the Acacia would need to meet certain limiting factors, for example height, seed pods on extremities, and uniform ripening. Some believe that this use of existing equipment may be the lowest cost option in the case of broadscale establishment focused on wattle seed production with less regard to coproducts. An example of where this approach has worked was with the development of mung beans and chickpeas, where the original breeding objective was to change the plant’s habit so they could be harvested with the equipment already on the property. 

Others in the workshop disagreed fundamentally that to start with existing harvesting equipment would be the lowest cost option. There are many options that are likely to be presented and developed, and to start off with that assumption as an exclusive consideration could be dangerous. While it is an important option and should not be excluded, one should not focus on a piece of machinery because it is widely available. That is, the available machinery should not be the driving factor in the development. 

It was further acknowledged that other woody plant crops to be developed will require completely new harvesters – so both options are still available. Wattle seed can fit into the existing harvester mould or a new woody plant harvester mould. 

Diversity of Species 

Wattles flower in every season and month of the year but it seemed implicit in many of the presentations that particular species would be grown on particular properties. The question was asked if it is possible for one property to have a diversity of species so a contract harvester can be used all year round in a region. 

It was acknowledged that this is a definite possibility, and that a diversity of species may in fact be very important for several reasons. 

• Firstly, it is correct that different species flower at different times. Quite a lot of seed could escape if one had a 100 acre crop of one species which resulted in a short harvest window. The point was made that if you have a diversity of species across your landscape the key is finding the formula that will fit the climate and land suitability in a particular area and this will vary from region to region. 

• Secondly, it was pointed out that diversity of species may result in environmental benefits, including water use, where different species may have different rooting depths and different water extraction characteristics at different times of the year. 

It was suggested that the first one or two generations of development of woody crops should be setting out to biologically diversify the agricultural base, so a range of niches can be filled and a complex and robust system can develop. 

3. Development of Discussion Topics 

3.1 Introduction 

Peter Chudleigh opened the third session of the day by re-focusing the participants on the workshop objectives. The first objective had already been achieved, that is, to get as much information as possible on the table. The objective of the remainder of the day was to assist RIRDC, with their scarce R&D money, as to where to focus those resources. 

When assessing a broadscale wattle seed industry it is important to remember the ‘broadscale’ component as JVAP is not focused on niche products, rather it is interested in the opportunities for commercial solutions for rising watertables and salinity. It is important to place a broadscale wattle seed industry in the context of other species that might be grown to achieve the desired sustainability benefits. Also important will be determining if there are R&D priorities common to developing a small-scale industry and a large-scale industry. 

The final objective is to determine future activities including R&D directions. What do we do next? 

There is a whole range of interacting factors and it will be difficult to prioritise what to do first, and exactly what to do. 

Based on the presentations and the discussion following the presentations, the following possible discussion topics were suggested by Peter Chudleigh in order to encourage discussion: 

• What are the prospects for developing a wattle seed industry? In developing new industries one usually starts with the market but the presentations this morning seemed to indicate that we don’t know a lot, but from what we do know there doesn’t seem any great potential unless some unique, and desirable feature is discovered through further research. Will the market be a killer factor? 

• Production systems (including the plant itself) and how it can be adapted to be not only commercial in a production cost sense, but also produce a product desirable to the market. A systems approach will be necessary to achieve this integration. 

• There are scarce R&D resources so how do we put these into the best areas – do we prove the market first; do we look at the plant first and what it has to offer; do we look at the breeding first; or do we look at harvesting first? 

• One of the major challenges will be defining the key factors that will allow us to have enough knowledge to say that this industry might or might not have good prospects. 

• Other opportunities for addressing salinity – the context for ‘perennializing’ agriculture and where does wattle seed fit into that? 

3.2 Discussion 

A Grower’s Experience 

Barry Clugston, a wattle seed grower from Wimmera in Victoria, was asked to open the discussion by providing some general details about his operation, and from his experience, what he sees as some relatively urgent R&D priorities. 

• Agronomy is a major problem – it took him 6 years to learn how to grow a wattle tree. 

• Harvesting is one of the most critical things. He currently does it by hand and a lot cheaper than figures he has seen quoted in the presented papers. He sweeps the seed and pods off the tree with a pipe as in an olive situation, sometimes using a labour team (eg backpackers). The seed and pods are then collected off tarpaulins. 

• With handbeating he can revisit the tree up to half a dozen times and keep knocking off seeds as they ripen as they don’t all ripen together. He has learnt that you can start harvesting a lot earlier than you think so you don’t lose seeds to the wind by waiting. You can get nearly 100% recovery. 

He does not believe buttshaking is a harvesting option – it can damage the tree, the pods won’t easily dislodge; and all aren’t ready to come off at the same time. 

• Finger processing seems the best line of research as it will physically knock the husks and seed down together without much loss of leaves. 

• He would like to be able to produce a truckload off his property and take it to a processor. With that type of bulk the processor will have incentive to try looking for markets and uses. 

• At the moment he generally produces a ute load full for the restaurant trade and there is no incentive to search for larger markets 

• Economics is an overriding factor, but in some situations the economics will go out the door in comparison to the loss of land to salinity. If we don’t address water balance and get out of shallow rooted crops and into deeper rooted perennials the landscape will be in trouble – in the end the plantings won’t be economically driven, they will be landscape driven. 

• While he has never physically inspected the depth of the roots of his plantings, he is confident the trees are drying up some of his paddocks because he is not filling dams at the bottom of the paddocks. Taller grasses also may be contributing to water reduction. 

• He is not concerned with weediness as he slashes between rows. 

Background to Discussion Topics 

For the discussion topics, it was determined that a group on the market prospects was essential, as some consider this the most limiting factor. What size market will be the most profitable or realistic to target? What sort of human products could start to meet that broadscale environmental market? 

This would also help to decide the proportional effort of R&D resources that should be put in to developing a specific wattle seed industry or a wider Acacia industry. There is a need to do some basic work to consider, for example, exactly how large the bean market is. If we’re going to aim for a bean market, what are the special things about wattle seed that allow it to compete with chickpeas or mung beans? 

The markets for co-products (eg biomass and residue for livestock) also need to be considered. Coproducts might be driven by the type of production system that is designed, or co-products themselves may drive the production system with wattle seed as a co-product. It was suggested that in a lot of cases co-products may not be entirely compatible, and may require divergent streams of development. 

It was also recognised that there is a lack of knowledge on the types of products that can even be produced from the seed. It is possible due to the number of species that there are opportunities not even considered yet. For example, there is awareness that the seeds of some species are extremely oily, however it is not known whether those same oily seeds also have toxic or perhaps anti-cancer qualities. This level of basic research is still required. However it was pointed out that the actual number of species you could get seed from are far less than 1,000 – and then what can be grown in a particular micro-climate and district are less again. It will not necessarily be a complex process to do the initial screening for species that should be considered. 

It was determined that it would be impossible to separate the issues of plant/seed characterisation and functional food characteristics from the market opportunity side. That is, both issues of what is physically, or technically possible to produce, versus what the market requires or is willing to accept, need to be considered. 

It was suggested that the market prospects aspect is probably the key to this whole industry development but in order to assess the market properly, comprehensive information on not only the chemical constituents and food properties, but also what can be done with those in a manufacturing sense is required. All of these aspects have to be looked at together in a cycle. Once a little bit more is known about the market prospects the seed characteristics can be interpreted and so on. 

A suggestion was made that from the food processing point of view, any advantage to wattle seed will only come if it offers some specific property that can’t be met at the moment with other products. To link it back to markets, there is some value to understanding how the isolates actually function in food systems, for example what are the emulsification and foaming characteristics? It is very difficult to get ingredient suppliers taking up something new and developing it unless it is a new property that can’t be met with other existing products. It is necessary to go back to what the needs are at the community level in terms of public health and nutrition. With the current knowledge, what is in wattle seeds does not seem to give an extra dimension in terms of fulfilling any needs. So far what exists is an ingredient or food that has quite a lot of cachet with being Australian and the agronomic use is probably going to sell it – there may be things that come out that have nutrition and health benefits. 

It was noted that since wattle seed was unlikely to drive industry development on its own, it may be first useful to establish if wattle is indeed a useful tree for addressing waterlogging and salinity. 

Other participants were more focused on identifying an economic driving force for the creation of a new broadscale industry that would address the natural resource management issues. The first issue is one of assessment of whether broadscale wattle seed production can be commercially driven. If the answer is no, then we should move to some other commercial prospect and relegate wattle seed to a small scale market. 

3.3 Discussion Groups 

The four discussion topics were as follows: 

1. Wattle Seed in the Context of Other Woody Perennial Crops 

• Is broadscale production feasible/desirable/economically competitive 

• Is information sufficient to make such a comparison? What information is needed? 

2. Market Prospects 

• Food processing and nutrition 

• Unique characteristics 

• Size of target market 

• R&D priorities 

3. Production Systems 

• 1,000,000 tonne market – Design a production/harvesting system for as 1 million tonne market

• Develop R&D priorities 

4. Production Systems 

• Design a production/harvesting system for a 100,000 tonne market 

• Develop R&D priorities 

4. Outputs of Working Group Discussions 

Each of the four topics was discussed by a working group for about one hour, and a representative of each group then reported back to the workshop on the findings of their discussion in relation to their topic. 

4.1 Wattle Seed in the Context of Other Perennial Crops 

The group started with the proposition that there are many different products that could be produced from perennial crops, and that they need to be looked at systematically to see which of these products might have a place in broadscale agriculture. This was essential in order to determine how attractive wattle seed as an industry might be compared to other options. 

Perennial agriculture as a whole will always have to compete with annual agriculture. Annual agriculture currently exists in many of the target landscapes and perennial agriculture including wattle seed will have to be as profitable as or more profitable than annual agriculture (including consideration of sustainability issues). 

Product competitors include: 

• Annual grains 

• Meat/wool (co-production) 

• Composite wood 

• Process wood/charcoal 

• Bioenergy 

Likewise, on the plant side, there needs to be an understanding of the attributes of other plant groups and species that wattle seed will need to compete with. A process of systematic evaluation should be established to determine what the priorities should be. 

Wattle seed competitors include: 

• Other Acacia products 

• Other plants 

-Eucalypts 

-Perennial pasture/fodder 

-Other plant groups 

The elements of interest or attraction in looking more closely at wattle seed were identified by the group: 

• It is the only perennial plant with a reasonable claim to being a human food producing plant in terms of dryland agriculture in the extensive wheatbelt zone. 

• The wattle seed possibility enhances the attractiveness and economics of the Acacia genus. 

• The production of wattle seed could be widely applicable to a range of landscapes and climates. 

The R&D priorities identified by the group include: 

1. Food science efforts to characterise components and food processing attributes 

2. Co-production possibilities 

-Forest products such as wood and biomass 

-Animal use such as grazing between trees as well as tree products used as feed 

4.2 Market Prospects 

The group started with two assumptions 

• Wattle seed is seen as a candidate for an economic driving force for broadscale revegetation, ie, not wattle seed for the sake of it, but as an economic solution. 

• While wattle seed or other wattle food products such as gum can be explored, it is acknowledged that a range of other ‘competitors’ are currently being investigated. 

At this stage it appears there is very little that is attractive about wattle seed as a major food crop. There are currently no known constituents that can be commercialised in a broadscale sense, however there are markets for niche products. 

Product opportunities to be further explored include: 

• gum (not from seed but from the trunk) 

• novelty oils (from arils attached to the seeds) 

• other aspects of the seed may be of interest and should be investigated to determine, for example, if there are any sterols that can be used for cholesterol reduction. 

Bio-prospecting is a method of searching for novel properties of a new crop such as wattle seed. Bioprospecting for medicinals is extremely high risk and very costly and not appropriate to consider in the early stages of product development. However bio-prospecting for food properties is relatively low cost and simpler. 

At this stage it is difficult to quantify the potential size of markets until the properties of the product and how they might address market requirements are known. 

The group identified the following R&D priorities: 

• A review of prospective food constituents or properties that are in demand; for example identify food properties that have scope for development 

• Target the key species of wattle for investigation of their food properties that may fit into some of these potential areas of development 

• A review of legislative and regulatory hurdles for new products. 

Following the presentation there was a brief discussion as to the possible contribution of traditional aboriginal knowledge about Acacia species and wattle seed to help speed up the ‘western science’ bio-prospecting process. It was determined that this knowledge would be useful in terms of bioprospecting for food properties and helping to shortlist species that have known food uses. However it would not be so relevant in terms of bio-prospecting for medicinal purposes as aboriginal people did not traditionally suffer from high cholesterol, cancer or diabetes, which would be some of the major medical issues potentially being considered. 

4.3 Production Systems (1 million tonne market) 

The group considered the following to be the major characteristics/assumptions of a production system capable of delivering wattle seed to a 1 million tonne market: 

• Low yield crop in terms of seed production per stem 

• Dryland agriculture 

• Harvester will have to move quickly and process as many hectares per hour as possible (possibly at speeds of up to 10 km per hour) in order to compensate for the low yielding nature of the crop 

• Direct seeded crop 

• Harvest height to be a maximum of 1 to 1.5 metres so the machine will pass over the top of the crop 

• Maximum seed per hectare may be influenced significantly by plant density and layout (anywhere from 5,000 stems per hectare down to 400 stems per hectare). This will be a fairly fertile area for R&D as the full range of possibilities needs to be considered to maximise yield per ha. 

• Layout issue in terms of land conservation is that there is a choice between continuous plantings (eg plantations) right down to belts of various widths. There are land reclamation and dewatering/salinity implications depending on whether one uses phase cropping with the intention of mining the water or a longer life repeated harvest method. 

• The harvest platform would be mobile, highly manoeuvrable and have a 5 to 10 m wide front. If it is any narrower it won’t get the throughflow per hour needed to minimise the cost of harvesting seed. 

• An area for R&D is the interaction between spacing, yield and harvest method and that would also tend to relate to whether the layout is for a continuous phase crop etc 

• An ideal goal would be early occupation of the site, maximum leaf area and maximum production per ha as early as possible. However the further the system is pushed that way, the greater the risk of drought death before the crop has run its term. If it is a phase crop and its going to be entirely harvested for biomass at say five years of age, then the system can be pushed further in terms of heavier seed, higher occupancy and earlier production. 

• A picking system (eg fingers versus knives) can not be nominated at this stage until there is a more complete understanding of the plant. 

• The seed should be separated on the harvester as early as possible in order to avoid foliage and other material contaminating the seed 

• It is a grain not biomass harvesting operation. Biomass harvesting is a different principle and the development of the biomass harvesters and grain harvesters diverge very quickly. 

Comment was made that separating the seed on the harvester itself is usually not possible as the wattle seed will be at varying stages of maturity, and the green seed does not separate from the husk until it has been dried in the hot sun for a couple of weeks. 

It was pointed out, however, that for an industry on the scale proposed, uniform ripening would be necessary as the cost of rehandling would be difficult to accommodate when competing with a commodity like wheat. It was also recognised that uniform ripening will be an advantage in terms of food processing, as any differential in the seed due to whether it matures on the tree or not will be a problem for food processing. 

There was also some discussion as to whether a biomass harvester may in fact be appropriate in this situation so that a single harvester could be used to harvest two products at once. However, it was pointed out that biomass requires a row crop harvester which takes huge volumes of material, weighs 

15 to 20 tonnes and has 400 kilowatts of power on board – it is a cane harvester style of machine which is very heavy, expensive and powerful and processes between 70 and 100 tones of material per hour. A grain harvester is a sheet metal box which is cheap and light; it harvests only a small amount of material per hour and it needs a very wide front because grain provides only a low yield per hectare. 

It would be possible to opportunistically take seed from a biomass harvester. However, seed would not be the focus of the biomass industry and may therefore not fit into the 1 million tonne market category. It was recognised that this might provide an economic opportunity but is more appropriately discussed by group 4. 

An argument was made that any wattle seed industry of this size is a long way off, as the industry will develop through the higher value markets and as the tonnages increase over time there will be a critical mass on which to base further research. It will not be possible to launch straight into broadacre production for large markets. It will be necessary to go into high value markets incrementally. 

Following this group’s presentation, the conclusion seemed to be that research in the ‘production systems’ area should not be the first step, but rather the market should be studied first, and the genetic resource should be investigated to determine if it is possible to breed a wattle plant that will fit into this type of broadscale production system. 

4.4 Production Systems (100,000 tonne market) 

Points raised by this group include: 

• One of the key characteristics of a production system on this scale is diversity. 

• This size production system is likely to be associated with co-products. 

• There are a range of possible production systems including alley farming, whether 15 or 100 metres wide. 

• Another production system could be extensive grazing with low food quality Acacias which may have a high digestibility for animals. This might be useful where you can’t get perennial pastures to persist in cleared land. 

• If considering production in cropping areas the less profitable parts of the paddock or farm could be selected for production 

• Opportunity seed harvesting could be a tool for these production systems. Eg Grazing may occur most of the year but at certain times seed may be harvested as a food product. 

• There will be a balancing act of human and animal consumption of the plant or seed. This may depend on cost-benefit analysis of the different genetic resources in Acacia and how they may be exploited. 

• Quality, volume and processing needed are also major points. For example, it may not be worthwhile harvesting Acacia seed for animals if the yield and processing makes it too expensive. 

• Other production possibilities for Acacia include bio-energy, woodchips, pulp, and effluent recycle use for feedlots. 

R&D needs identified by Group 4 included: 

• Evaluate and select species and bio-types with various characteristics in order to have a range of Acacias for different purposes; for example there is currently different varieties of wheat for feedgrain, for high quality pasta and breadmaking. Various uses can be regional and can be human or animal specific. This opens a range of funding opportunities by approaching other R&D Corporations. 

• In terms of management R&D is required on all aspects of agronomy and silviculture including plant density, water use efficiency, fertiliser use etc. 

• A mechanical harvester needs to be developed. 

• Ultimately it would be desirable to have a series of establishment packages specific to the end product use (eg human or animal consumption). 

5. Plenary Discussion 

The following key points were established during the Final Plenary Discussion: 

• It was determined that there are prospects for wattle seed, however there is not enough knowledge to compare wattle seed with other commercial perennial opportunities at this stage. 

• The size and shape of any future wattle seed industry is uncertain and will be dependent on many factors. 

• In terms of research into wattle seed, some of the basics are still unknown, for example is the oil valuable, is the husk a waste or by product, what sort of ingredient is the kernel etc. Knowing these basic details will give a basic sense of what wattle seed will be worth at different levels of production. 

• The legislative and regulatory issues need to be looked at up front. This is relatively low cost and easy to do. 

• It can not yet be determined whether wattle seed is a research area more appropriate to JVAP or RIRDCs Bush Foods Program. 

• Any R&D should be in proportion to R&D on other crops that might also be targets for development. There is a limited amount of money for R&D in this area and the major opportunities need to be picked out. It is very clear that Acacias are a very interesting plant group and there is almost certainly germplasm in the genus that will be developed into a whole series of crop plants over the next few decades. The seed component is one Acacia product that should be monitored and it should be worked on in proportion to its perceived priority over time. 

• The amount of funding available might dictate the priorities. That is, one should consider the highest affordable priority. 

• A continuation of desk top research is an affordable way of moving the research forward. 

• For some potential products, there is a critical mass point of production of wattle seed that will need to be reached before any R&D can be carried out. For example there may be opportunities in animal nutrition in terms of feeding the tannin containing wattle seed husks to dairy cows as an anti-bloat measure. However, to undertake a small trial would require 2 to 2.5 tonnes of husk. Similarly, to do human food experiments on pigs will require 60kg of food grade product per treatment. 

• It was indicated that the first steps in terms of analysing the wattle seed for potential food opportunities would be fairly simple and relatively inexpensive (eg analysis of composition of non-starch polysaccharides (NSPs), starch). However one must consider that at the earliest stages it will be necessary to cover a wide range of the germplasm pool. Also, there is great variability within the seeds of a single Acacia species as there has not yet been any chance to ‘breed’ this variability out. 

• In order to sell wattle seed as an ingredient to a processor, you will need to know and guarantee the exact composition for inclusion on a nutritional information panel. A standard product needs to be delivered to the food processor as they are relying on it to perform in exactly the same way every time. Therefore the variability will need to be bred out of the wattle seed before it can be processed as an ingredient. However, it needs to be determined what characteristics are desirable in the market place before any moves can be made towards breeding variability out in a certain direction. 

The following broad list of knowledge gaps and R&D priorities were identified: 

• Support existing Search, Florasearch and Acaciasearch projects. The methods developed in these projects will aid a comparison of wattle seed with other woody perennials 

• The food science area is very important. We need to know more about what is in both the seed and the plant (eg gum from trunk). 

• There should perhaps be an Acacia program rather than a wattle seed program as there are many potential products from the Acacia genus. 

• Bio-prospecting in regards to food ingredients should be effected from both the supply and demand side, but particularly on the demand side. A first step might be a review of the food ingredients that are in demand at the moment and are likely to be in demand in the future. 

• On the supply side we know insufficient about the species and what they contain to meet those food ingredients being demanded. 

• A legislative and regulatory review is one of the first activities that should be undertaken. 

• There is a need to take a systems approach in any investigations. A systems analysis in the form of a desk top study should be undertaken before funding field trials. 

• This desktop study may include a comparative systems approach (economics with an emphasis on primarily biomass production versus primarily seed production). This will include aspects such as: 

-Layout – maximise seed yield 

-Spacing/yield/harvest interactions 

-Screening species for market, nutrition, shape of tree etc 

-Species selection 

-Management – agronomy/silviculture/harvesting 

-Water use 

The plenary discussion raised issues that should be considered when planning any future research and development program on broadacre wattle seed production. However, there seemed consensus from the workshop participants that more information is required before any conclusions can be reached on the potential for a wattle seed industry, the likely size of this industry, or its appropriateness for funding under JVAP. 

It was determined that a first step will be to investigate the market, in terms of both supply and demand. That is, what food ingredients are likely to be in demand in the future, what is the likely scale of that demand, and can wattle seed, or other Acacia products, meet any of these demands. It is not until these issues have been resolved that any intensive breeding or field trials should be undertaken. However, it would be appropriate for some desktop studies in the area of production systems to be ongoing. 

6. Conclusions and Recommendations 

1. There is not sufficient information currently available to make conclusions about the potential for a broadscale wattle seed or Acacia industry. The most limiting factor is knowledge about the nature or size of the markets that wattle seed may be able to supply. 

2. Large-scale agroforestry industries are of most interest to JVAP. Until the market prospects for wattle seed are more conclusively addressed, it is difficult to assess whether a wattle seed industry could grow to a broadscale industry. 

3. The prospects for a broadscale wattle seed industry need to be assessed further before a decision to support R&D funding from JVAP for developing a wattle seed industry is made. In particular: 

(a) a balance needs to be developed between developing a wattle seed industry per se, developing an “Acacia” industry where wattle seed is viewed as an opportunistic by-product, and other commercial prospects for non-Acacia perennial species that address sustainability issues. 

(b) a decision will need to be made by RIRDC as to whether JVAP, or the sub-program based on bush foods is the most appropriate funding source for R&D. 

4. To assist with these decisions, and to further the development of a wattle seed industry, it is recommended that further R&D activity should be undertaken in phases. 

5. The first phase should consist of the following research activities: 

(a) An urgent consideration should be a marketing study that establishes current and future demand for certain food ingredients, including community health needs and diet preferences. 

A part of this would be the size and value of particular markets that could potentially be serviced by wattle seed eg mung beans, chickpeas etc. Such a study should include not only products from the seed, but also other parts of the tree such as gum exuded from the trunk, the seed pods and the leaves. Both human and animal nutrition markets should be considered. 

(b) At the same time, an initial scientific analysis of the nutritional and functional constituents of selected species should be undertaken to determine which of the potential markets identified can be serviced by wattle seed or other Acacia products. 

(c) A review of the legislative and regulatory aspects of developing food ingredients will also be essential as part of this first phase of research. 

(d) In keeping with an integrated systems approach, desk-top research should continue on the nature and economics of potential production systems. Variables to be considered would include establishment, layout, density, plant shape, harvesting mechanism, fertiliser and pest control. 

6. Following the completion of these Phase 1 research activities, a decision should be made as to whether further industry development of any type is feasible. If it is determined there is some potential, a decision should be made as to the potential market or markets to be targeted, and the potential size and likely value of these markets. This will determine the nature of any further research, and whether that research is appropriately funded through JVAP or through some other sub-program. It is recommended that breeding or field trials would be delayed until the Phase 1 studies have been completed, and potential target markets have been identified. 

7. If appropriate, once the target market(s) has been determined, and if the overall prospects for market penetration and commercial profitability appear favourable, a systems based research program focusing on species selection and breeding for nutritional and growth characteristics should be undertaken. Selection should consider not only the required nutritional characteristics, but also the desired tree shape and water use characteristics. This breeding program should include field trials. 

8. Once it has been determined what tree shape is possible within an envisaged production system, a mechanical harvester and planting system should be developed that maximises cost efficiencies, as well as sustainability benefits. It may be preferable to design the harvester in conjunction with Step 7 above. 

Part 2: Invited Papers 

Economic Potential for a Wattle Seed Industry 

S.L. Simpson and P.D. Chudleigh 

Agtrans Research, PO Box 385 Toowong, Qld 4066 Australia

Contact author: Sarah Simpson, Phone: 07 3870 4047, Fax: 07 3371 3381, 

E-mail: agtrans@powerup.com.au

Introduction 

This paper draws heavily on the report titled “Wattle Seed Production in Low Rainfall Areas” 

(Simpson, S. and Chudleigh, P., June 2001). This report was the result of a desktop study commissioned by RIRDC in late 2000. 

The aims of this study were to investigate the potential for broadacre wattle seed production in the medium to low rainfall areas of southern Australia while considering the implications for resource sustainability, and the potential for wattle seed to penetrate large-scale markets. 

Information on the following will be presented in this paper: 

• the existing and potential markets for wattle seed, along with some nutritional characteristics requiring further investigation; 

• factors to consider relating to production systems; 

• harvesting options and issues; 

• key assumptions and results from the economic analysis conducted for the RIRDC report, along with the key constraints of this analysis; and 

• conclusions. 

Each of these topics is discussed only briefly, the intention being to provide an overview and context for each of these topics, as they will be focused on in more detail in other papers in these proceedings. 

Existing Markets 

Currently, the market for wattle seed is almost solely as a bushfood. The seed has been identified as one of the ten most commercially acceptable species of the bushfood industry (Graham and Hart 1998). Total product used by processors in 1995/96 was 6.0 tonnes at a wholesale price of approximately $30 to $35 a kilogram for clean, roasted seed, and $53 to $59 a kilogram for ground clean roasted seed (Graham and Hart 1998). A separate, more recent estimate is that the current demand for wattle seed is between 12 and 20 tonnes, with a farm-gate price of between $12 and $25 per kg of clean seed (Beal, pers comm, 2000). Variables that affect the price include the size of the consignment and the size and quality of the seed. 

Existing uses/markets include: 

• flavouring agent in confectionery, sauces and ice cream 

• coffee substitute 

• edible oil 

• flour used in biscuits, breads and pasta 

• cosmetics including soaps and facial scrubs 

• animal and fish feeds 

Potential Markets 

The existing bush food market is expected to grow modestly over the next decade, particularly if export markets are developed. However, this specialty and novel food market will most probably never reach a scale where broadacre dryland production would be required. 

It may be possible to develop other markets for wattle seed, for example in low glycaemic foods and specialty flour markets for bread, biscuits, cakes and pastas. It is possible that only low proportions of wattle seed could be used in breads due to the absence of gluten. Further research is required into the baking characteristics of wattle seed in order to determine the maximum proportion of wattle seed that can be incorporated into breads. 

High usage markets such as starches, vegetable proteins or vegetable oils are possible, but would depend on the nutritional characteristics and food processing qualities of the seed, and on being able to be produced at very low cost in order to penetrate and compete in these markets. 

While there has been a limited amount of research already completed on the nutritional composition of wattle seed, it is clear that further research is required before any conclusions can be drawn about which markets could be targeted. Examples of key characteristics requiring further investigation include: 

-amino acid composition 

-protein inhibitors 

-isoflavins 

-flavour characteristics 

-oil and fat composition 

-carbohydrates 

-soluble fibre 

-characteristics of seed coat 

-mineral composition 

Co-Products 

Agroforestry species for low rainfall areas most likely to succeed commercially are those that produce multiple products. Harvesting methods and production systems will be factors in determining multiple product opportunities. 

Examples of co-products which may be appropriate for Acacia include: 

-woodchips for panel board manufacture 

-stock fodder (grazed in paddock or modified feed pellets for feedlots) 

-bio-energy 

-tannins 

-firewood 

-specialty timbers 

-fence posts 

-gum arabic 

-flowers 

Production systems 

Production systems will be largely influenced by the harvesting mechanism. Four separate options for the layout of a wattle seed production system have been identified: 

-plantation 

-rotation (phase) cropping 

-alley planting 

-companion planting 

Layout can be a major influence on the level of water use by the plants. 

Establishment of the Acacias can be by direct seeding or bare rooted seedlings. Issues related to pests, weeds, disease and fertilisers are comparable to those of other woody native species. Under a rotation cropping system Acacias may provide benefits to subsequent crops. 

There are over 1000 species of Acacia in Australia. Market factors, as well as production factors, will dictate the species type. Important factors to consider are: 

-tree form

-toxicity, taste and nutritional characteristics 

-adaptability to various climates and landscapes 

-growth characteristics (eg speed) 

-seed characteristics (eg size of seed crop, reliability, harvest window) 

-ease of propagation and establishment 

-pruning, shaping and coppicing 

Harvesting 

Currently, most wattle seed supplying the bush foods market is harvested from natural stands. This wild harvesting is generally effected by hand and is very labour intensive. The development of an efficient and economic harvester for extensive wattle seed production from plantations is one of the key constraints to achieving a low production cost of seed and a large portion of the R&D required in regards to wattle seed production will need to be aimed at reducing the cost of harvesting. 

Three possible harvesting options have been identified: 

1. ‘Butt-shaking’: An arm grabs the main stem (butt) of the tree and shakes, causing the seeds and pods to fall off. The Acacia seeds and pods are then collected in a metal tray that surrounds the tree. 

2. ‘Fingers’: A mechanical shaker which works by brushing plastic fingers through the outer foliage. This would be in the form of a stripper harvester that would have brushing fingers with keyholes to strip the pods. For this type of system to be successful however, the seed pods would need to be at the extremities of the bush and the bush would need to contain little heavy wood (maximum 15mm diameter). 

3. Biomass harvest: Refers to harvesting by removing the entire above-ground biomass and then allowing coppicing. This would involve harvesting both seed and biomass once every four years or so by cutting back the tree to a stump and then allowing it to regenerate. 

The major factors regarding the success and economic feasibility of harvesting Acacia seed relate to: 

• the shape and silviculture properties of the species chosen 

• the length of the available harvest window 

• the harvesting method and its interaction within the production system with average yield per annum 

• the potential for harvesting and utilising co-products 

Sustainability 

At the time of the study, little or no research had been done into the rate of water use of Acacia species, and their likely success in reducing the level of the water table. The commercial benefits of wattle seed should be considered in comparison to other perennials and potential agroforestry species, which also have the potential to lower the water table. 

Olsen (pers comm, 2000) suggests that the level of water use of Acacias will be dependent on many factors, including the growth rate of the plant, the plant spacing, frequency of harvest, amount of foliage growth between harvests, and a range of environmental factors (eg. rainfall, soil type, depth of unsaturated zone, availability of fresh groundwater). 

Benefit-Cost Analysis 

Benefit-cost analysis is an effective way of summarising and interpreting assumptions. Please note that these assumptions are indicative only and further work is required in order to confirm or identify more accurate parameters. 

It is assumed that the budget for wattle seed developed refers to a current farming operation wishing to move part of the farm from, for example, wheat production into wattle seed production. Therefore all fixed costs are ignored. This is important as the results therefore are not indicative for someone wishing to buy land and equipment and develop a wattle seed enterprise. Also, the cost of wheat production foregone has not been included. 

Investment analyses were carried out for each of the three separate harvesting scenarios identified. 

Table 1 presents a summary of the assumptions used in the benefit-cost analysis. 

Table 1: Summary of Assumptions Used in Benefit-Cost Analysis 

Item Harvesting method 

                            Scenario 1: Shaking         Scenario 2: Fingers         Scenario 3: Biomass harvest 

Discount Rate         10%                             10%                                 10% 

Longevity of trees    12 years                     12 years                             12 years 

Density under

plantation conditions (a) 625 trees/ha             625 trees/ha                     625 trees/ha 

Cost of plant material (b) $300/ha $300/ha $300/ha 

Ground preparation and direct seeding (c) $80/ha $80/ha $80/ha 

Pruning and training (d) $0/ha $0/ha $0/ha 

Pesticide and fertiliser application (d) $0/ha $0/ha $0/ha 

Harvesting cost (e) $3125/ha $750/ha $500/ha 

Farm-gate price for wattle seed $1/kg $1/kg $1/kg 

Marketable yield per plant at full production 

(f) 

2kg per tree 2kg per tree 2kg per tree 

Year of first harvest (g) Year 3 Year 3 Year 4 

Yield per plant (% of full production) 

Year 1 0% 0% 0% 

Year 2 0% 0% 0% 

Year 3 50% 50% 0% 

Year 4 85% 85% 85% 

Year 5 95% 95% 0% 

Year 6 100% 100% 0% 

Year 7 100% 100% 0% 

Year 8 100% 100% 85% 

Year 9 100% 100% 0% 

Year 10 100% 100% 0% 

Year 11 85% 85% 0% 

Year 12 85% 85% 85% 

Growth rate of biomass (h) 5m3/ha/year 5m3/ha/year 5m3/ha/year 

Value of biomass (h) $10 / m3 $10 / m3 $10 / m3 

Explanatory notes for Table 5.1: 

(a) It is reported in Graham and Hart (1998) that the plant density for wattle seed is 625 plants per hectare. It is not specified whether this density relates to dryland or irrigated systems. Beal (pers comm, 2000) indicates the plant density under irrigated conditions is 667 plants per hectare. 

(b) The cost of seed for one hectare was calculated by making assumptions about the survival rate, quantity of seed per kg, and the price per kg of seed. It is assumed there are approximately 20,000 seeds per kg, that the average survival rate is 0.1%, and that the cost of seed is $10/kg. 

(c) Ground preparation and direct seeding cost were estimated at approximately $80/ha, based on 2 hours/ha operating time for ground preparation and 2 hours/ha for direct seeding, with each activity requiring one labour unit at $10/hour ($40) plus an equivalent amount ($40) for fuel and maintenance. 

(d) These two variables are assumed at zero cost for the purposes of the basic analysis. It should be noted however that these inputs may be necessary. 

(e) The harvesting cost for Scenario 1 (Shaking) is based on the following assumptions. Assuming the machine can be adequately utilised throughout the year in different regions, then the hourly cost of using the harvester can be assumed to be $100/hour. This is inclusive of labour, fuel, maintenance, capital depreciation etc. It is further assumed that the harvester can harvest 20 trees per hour. Therefore, the harvester would take 31.25 hours to harvest one hectare containing 625 trees, at a cost of $3125 per hectare. At full yield production of 2 kg per tree, this equates to harvesting 40 kg per hour, at a cost of $2.50 per kg. 

The harvesting cost for Scenario 2 (fingers) is based on the assumption that as this is a similar harvesting method to coffee harvesting, the harvesting cost can be assumed to be roughly similar, at $750 per hectare. 

The harvesting cost for Scenario 3 (biomass harvest) is based on that for tea tree oil, but allowing for the reduced amount of biomass for Acacias. However, Acacia harvesting will incur the additional cost of separating the wattle seed from the biomass. 

(f) Graham and Hart (1998) state that the average yield is 1.5 kg per plant. Maslin et al (1998) quote slightly higher potential yield figures of 2 kg of seed per plant. It is assumed that both of these figures relate to yields being observed on natural stands of Acacias. Therefore, it is assumed that with appropriate selection of seeds from plants and varieties known to be high yielding, a marketable yield of 2 kg per tree with 625 trees per hectare, in a year of average rainfall could be expected. 

(g) The year of first harvest could vary depending on the economics of the level of yield, price and harvest cost in a given year. Yield distribution by year will depend on species type, as well as other variables (e.g. rainfall, soil type) 

(h) The growth rate of biomass is based on that reported for Eucalyptus species in Zorzetto and Chudleigh (1999). Also adapted from this publication, is an approximate price per wet tonne of biomass (one wet tonne is assumed to be equivalent to 1m3) for Acacia species. 

Results of the investment analysis are presented in Table 2. 

Table 2: Base Results for Benefit-Cost Analysis 

(for 1 hectare, over 12 years, at a 10% discount rate) 

Investment Criteria Scenario 1: 

Shaking 

Scenario 2: 

Fingers 

Scenario 3: 

Biomass harvest 

Net Present Value ($) -11,481 1,785 851 

Benefit/Cost ratio 0.4 to 1 1.4 to 1 2 to 1 

Internal Rate of Return (%) no solution 45 39 

The results show that production under Scenario 1 (harvest by ‘butt-shaking’), is not economically viable unless the cost of harvesting can be reduced to $1070 per hectare, or if the yield and/or farm-gate price can be significantly increased. It may only be appropriate for this harvesting method to be used to service the bushfood or other niche industries, where a premium price for wattle seed can be attained and where other harvesting methods have not been developed. 

Scenarios 2 (harvest by ‘fingers’) and 3 (biomass harvest) both show promise of being economically viable, and at appropriate yields, able to be remain economically viable at a farm-gate price of less than $1/kg. 

From sensitivity analyses conducted it is evident that there are three key drivers of the economic viability of wattle seed production. 

• harvesting method and cost 

• yield, and 

• farm-gate price 

Potential sustainability benefits were not quantified in the analysis. 

The preliminary feasibility study suggests that the idea of large scale production of wattle seed is worth pursuing further. However, it is apparent that before any position on the viability of wattle seed production is adopted, a significant amount of further information needs to be assembled. Information needs are divided into four separate categories: 

• Food processing and nutritional characteristics of wattle seed; 

• Production systems, species selection and harvesting; 

• Sustainability; and 

• Economic and market analyses 

Conclusions 

The following conclusions have been drawn: 

• It may be possible to develop niche or intermediate markets for wattle seed (eg increased bushfood demand, low glycaemic, specialty flours, oils). High volume markets such as starches, vegetable proteins etc would also be possible but would depend on seed being able to be produced at very low cost, for example significantly less than $1 per kg. It may also depend on some unique properties being discovered to ensure wattle seed is competitive. 

• Interactions with harvesting, species selection and co-products are very important when considering characteristics of production systems such as layout. 

• Wattle seed production could contribute to increased water use over annual crops and pastures. However the extent of such contribution to lowering groundwater tables and reducing the impact of salinity has not been quantified. 

• Harvesting is a key cost component and a significant driver of the economics of wattle seed production. There are several harvesting options that can be explored. 

• The three key drivers of the economic viability of wattle seed production are the harvesting method and subsequent cost, the yield and the farm-gate price. Scenarios 2 and 3 both show promise of being economically viable, however it is stressed again that the assumptions used in this analysis are indicative only, and further work is required in order to confirm or identify more accurate parameters. 

References 

Graham, C. and Hart, D. 1998. “Bushfoods” in Hyde, K. (Ed) The New Rural Industries: A Handbook for Farmers and Investors. RIRDC, Canberra. 

Maslin, B.R., Thomson, L.A.J., McDonald, M.W. and Hamilton-Brown, S. 1998. Edible Wattle Seeds of Southern Australia. CSIRO Australia, Perth. 

Simpson, S. and Chudleigh, P. 2001. Wattle Seed Production in Low Rainfall Areas. RIRDC Publication No. 01/08, Canberra 

Zorzetto, A. and Chudleigh, P. 1999. Commercial Prospects for Low Rainfall Agroforestry. RIRDC Publication No.99/152, Canberra. 

Building a Large-Scale Wattle Industry Graeme Olsen Olsen & Vickery, PO Box 357 Waroona, WA 6215 Australia

Phone: 08 9530 4604, Fax: 07 9530 4604, E-mail: golsen@iinet.net.au

Abstract 

A large-scale wattle seed industry, based on suitable species in the Acacia genus, could provide substantial land management benefits in dryland agricultural areas in southern Australia. This paper discusses market opportunities for wattle seed, and some production issues that determine its potential profitability. 

Wattle seed could be sold in a number of different sized markets, ranging from niche markets for bushfood and other specialty uses, to small to medium-sized markets for nuts, snack foods and pulses, and large markets for staple grains, oilseeds, food ingredients and stockfeed. At each step up in market size there is a corresponding step down in market price. 

Major Australian grain and seed crops such as wheat, barley and canola are produced at very low cost in highly mechanised, extensive farming systems. These industries are under constant pressure to maximise yield, improve quality, minimise costs, and export most of their output into competitive global markets. A large-scale wattle seed industry would be subject to the same pressures. The existing wattle seed industry is very small. It is based on tall shrub and tree Acacia species with a long history of traditional use as food by Australian Aborigines, and includes both wild harvesting and small-scale cultivation. Scaling up production will involve a change in methods, including the development of mechanised harvesting. 

The development of row-crop harvesters should bring significant reductions to harvesting costs for the wattle seed species in current use. This harvester development path could suit a small to medium-sized industry based on high value seed, but it will reach its limits long before becoming competitive with broad acre grain production systems harvested by headers. 

A more promising development pathway for large-scale crops is to develop a wattle crop with a different morphology – one that has many features in common with broad acre crops, enabling it to be grown in paddock layouts, and to be harvested by equipment with similar efficiency to conventional grain harvesters. Desirable features in the plant include short stature, reasonably erect form, high ratio of seed production to vegetative growth, formation of pods and seeds at or near the top of the plant, large seed size, synchronous seed ripening, and reduced or inhibited pod shattering. 

When developing a new crop, it is important that key aspects of farming system design are considered simultaneously. Important issues for wattle seed development are species selection, crop design, management methods and harvester development. 

At a broader level, requirements for new crop development include: 

• suitable germplasm 

• efficient, integrated farming systems 

• appropriate growing, harvesting and processing technology 

• acceptable product quality 

• market penetration 

Does wattle seed have the potential to become a major food crop? It’s too early to say, but further investigation is warranted. Acacia is an extremely diverse genus, with about 1,000 different taxa identified in Australia. A proper investigation of this variability may find suitable species or populations from which successful new crops can be developed. In conclusion, it seems likely that further development of existing tall wattle seed species and associated harvesting technology will enable the industry to grow from a niche industry to a small industry, but this pathway will not lead to the development of a large industry. To achieve that goal, and its associated land management benefits, a different development path is needed – one that selects and develops new germplasm better suited to efficient management and handling. 

Introduction 

The extensive development of dryland salinity in cleared agricultural areas in southern Australia demonstrates the unsustainable nature of current agricultural practices based on annual crops and pastures. Treating the source of the problem, by reducing the amount of rainfall that drains into the soil below the root zone (recharge) is one treatment option. 

Perennial crops could reduce recharge, and simultaneously address other aspects of agricultural land management such as erosion control and soil structure decline. To be effective in salinity management, perennial crops would need to be implemented on a large scale, with a leaf area index approaching that of the original native woodland (Hatton and Nulsen 1999). There are a number of hurdles to be overcome to achieve such a target, including: 

• Growing perennial plants extensively at the same low productivity as the original native woodland is clearly not a commercial option. A more promising approach is to design intensive arrangements of high productivity perennial crops, to produce the required leaf area (and water use), while leaving space for other agricultural crops. Alley farming layouts based on wide-spaced belts of short-rotation perennial plants, and phase farming in which a short, periodic perennial plant phase is incorporated into the sequence of annual cropping, are two such designs (Bartle 2001; Harper et al. 2000). 

• Finding markets large enough to absorb the amount of produce that large areas of new perennial crops would produce will be challenging (Bartle 2001). For example, ten million hectares of new, woody perennial crops (approximately 20% of the agricultural area in southern Australia’s low and medium rainfall zone) could produce 75 million dry tonnes of above-ground biomass per year - more than ten times Australia’s woodchip exports. If the crops produced commercial seed, then some 10 million tonnes could be produced each year – a new industry half the size of the Australian wheat industry. 

Native plant species in the large and diverse Acacia genus are being investigated for their potential to produce commercial products. There is a wide genetic base to choose from - approximately 1,000 Acacia species are found in Australia. Of those, approximately 350 are found in the temperate dry zone, which includes much of the dryland agricultural areas of southern Australia (Maslin et al. 1998). Potential large-scale uses include paper, panel board and bioenergy production, while smaller scale products could include fodder, tannins, gums and edible wattle seeds. 

Wattle seed is of particular interest because there is an existing, but very small wattle seed industry that could provide the foundation for a larger industry in future. The interesting question from a land management perspective is: What scale of wattle seed production is feasible? 

This paper reviews the market options for wattle seed, and discusses their implications for crop development. 

Current wattle seed industry 

At present, wattle seed is sold in very small quantities into niche food markets, mostly marketed as ‘bushfood’. The Australian market is estimated to be 12 to 20 tonnes per year, with farm gate prices of $12 to $25 per kg for clean seed (Simpson and Chudleigh 2001). Production methods are high-cost, with most seed harvested manually from natural stands. A few private growers harvest seed from small plantations, and a start has been made to improve production efficiency. 

Potential markets for wattle seed 

Maslin et al. (1998) describe seventeen species with potential for seed production, and list several food and industrial uses with potential to expand the industry - flavouring in confectionery, sauces, seasoning, cream and ice-cream; flour in biscuits, bread and pasta; coffee substitute; edible oil; cosmetics such as soaps and facial scrubs; and animal and fish feeds. 

Future opportunities discussed in Simpson and Chudleigh (2001) include small markets such as bushfoods and low glycaemic foods, medium-sized markets for flour, and large markets for generic food ingredients such as starch, oil and protein. 

The nature of any future wattle seed industry will depend largely on the scale of production and the size of target markets. For example, species selection, production methods, and marketing requirements are likely to be quite different for an industry providing high-volume, low-value seed for commodity food markets, compared to an industry supplying small markets for low-volume, high-value specialty foods. 

Various different markets for wattle seed are discussed below. In each case it is assumed that wattle seed is suitable for the proposed end use, and that issues of nutrition, food safety and regulatory approval have been resolved. 

Table 1 contains a summary of features commonly found in food markets of various size. Three different market sizes are considered: 

• niche markets for high-priced specialty products 

• small to medium-sized markets for specific grains and seeds 

• large volume, low value markets for generic food ingredients and stock feed Table 1: Features of different sized markets for perennial crops 

Market size 

Niche Small to 

medium 

Large 

Price received by 

growers 

High Moderate Low 

Relative importance of 

product’s price 

Low Moderate High 

Relative importance of 

marketing strategy 

High Moderate Low 

Potential for value 

adding by growers 

High Moderate Low 

Scale of land 

management benefit 

Farm scale District or sub-

catchment 

Catchment or 

larger 

Justification for public 

investment 

Low Moderate High 

Niche markets 

Wattle seed can be marketed in domestic and global niche markets on its novelty value (‘bushfood’), or for its special taste (‘nutty’) or special nutritional characteristics (gluten-free, caffeine-free, low glycaemic index). These markets could grow substantially from their current low level, and sustain an industry based on high-cost, horticultural production methods. Increasing wealth in the developed world, and in many developing countries offers a diversity of market opportunities, although many of these could be short-lived, as they are subject to changes in fashion, and changes in public perception of nutritional issues. 

However, even if wattle seed were to become successful in a large number of niche markets, the industry would remain small, perhaps one to two thousand hectares, and the environmental benefits produced would be localised, farm-scale benefits for participating growers. 

On the positive side, success in niche markets depends heavily on marketing skills rather than the price of the product, so a niche industry that is well managed, and promoted effectively, can be very profitable for its participants. This scale of industry provides excellent opportunities for private investment and privately controlled industry research and development. 

Small to medium-sized markets 

Markets for nuts, grains and seeds include higher priced segments where the product is served as a clearly identifiable food item, plus lower value uses in confectionery, garnishes and flavouring. These markets are attractive due to their moderate size, and moderately high prices. Three market segments are considered below – tree nuts, snack foods and confectionery, and pulses. 

Tree nuts 

The Australian market for tree nuts is quite small, with annual consumption of about 24,000 tonnes of shelled nuts. International trade (on a shelled basis) is 1.1 million tonnes per year – mainly cashews, almonds and hazel nuts. Average global export prices for shelled nuts vary from less than A$4,000 per tonne for chestnuts, to more than A$10,000 per tonne for macadamia nuts and pistachios (FAO 2002). 

If wattle seed supplied 10% of the Australian tree nut market, only a few thousand tonnes of wattle seed would be required per year. The global market is much larger - a 1% share of global imports would consume about 10,000 tonnes of wattle seed, and support a small industry of 10,000 hectares of trees. However, it is hard to see wattle seed capturing very much of the high value market for tree nuts, given the strong market position of existing nut types, and the different shape, size and flavour of wattle seeds. 

Snack foods and confectionery 

An easier target for wattle seed could be the lower-priced portion of the snack food market. The combined Australian market for peanuts, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds used in snacks and confectionery is small – perhaps 25,000 tonnes per year. Global markets are more substantial – total world imports are 1.3 million tonnes of peanut kernels at A$1,200 per tonne, 0.6 million tonnes of sesame seed at A$1,300 per tonne, and 4 million tonnes of sunflower seed at A$450 per tonne (FAO 2002). Note that only a small percentage of sunflower seed is used in confectionery – most is used for oil production. 

If wattle seed were to supply 10% of the Australian markets for snack food and confectionery grade peanuts, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds, a small industry of 2-3,000 hectares would suffice, while capture of 1% of global imports of the same products could possibly support an industry of 2030,000 hectares. If prices greater than $1,000 per tonne could be achieved, these markets could be profitable for growers using horticultural production methods. 

Pulses 

Because of the small Australian population, and the low usage of dry beans in Australian cuisine, it is likely that a medium-sized wattle seed industry would need to export most of its produce in this market category. Already, almost 75% of Australia’s annual production of 880,000 tonnes of dry peas and beans, chickpeas and lentils is exported (FAO 2002). Although global trade volumes for these foods are an order of magnitude larger than trade in nuts, export prices are an order of magnitude lower. For example, global exports total 7.5 million tonnes per year, at prices between $300 per tonne and $700 per tonne. Details for individual crops are shown in Table 2. 

Of the various pulse markets, many are likely to be out of reach of wattle seed growers because of their low export price. Most pulses sell for well below A$500 per tonne in international markets. Two exceptions are dry beans and lentils, but both are small industries in Australia, with a combined annual production of about 110,000 tonnes. However, their combined global trade is approximately 

3.3 million tonnes per year. If wattle seed could capture 2% of these markets, then a moderate sized 

industry of more than 50,000 hectares could be supported. 

Table 2: Production and trade data for pulses 

Crop Global 

trade 

(million t)1 

Australian 

production 

(t) 

exported 

% of 

global 

trade 

Australian 

export price 

(A$) 

Dry peas 3.23 405 000 61 8 301 

Broad beans 0.43 144 000 87 29 349 

Chick peas 0.60 225 000 91 34 442 

Lentils 0.84 66 000 41 3 573 

Dry beans 2.42 41 000 95 2 671 

Total 7.52 881 000 73 9 395 

1 Includes internal European Union trade. 

All data are 1995-2000 averages (FAO 2002) 

Prospects – small to medium-sized markets 

To capture part of the small, high-value export markets for nuts and snack food components, and the 

larger, but lower-valued markets for pulses would require changes in tastes and habits by consumers, 

a process that is likely to be both slow and difficult. Moving wattle seed beyond being a curiosity 

food into the mainstream would require sustained, effective, and culturally specific marketing 

campaigns in a range of target markets, in direct competition with a diverse range of well-established, 

popular foods. 

Price becomes important in these markets. Large sections of the pulse market are already too low-

priced for wattle seed produced using horticultural methods. 

Assuming that wattle seed were successful in expanding into these small and medium-sized markets, 

the likely size of a wattle seed industry could be in the thousands, or even tens of thousands of 

hectares. A perennial plant industry of this size could provide significant land management benefits 

on a sub-catchment scale, and could attract some public investment in its development. 

Large markets 

Potential large markets for wattle seed include staple grains, food ingredients and stockfeed. Price, 

quality, compatibility with processing requirements and reliability are the main determinants of 

success in these markets. 

Production and trade figures for the major Australian dryland grain crops are given in Table 3. 

Staple food grains 

The most important food grains are wheat, maize and rice – each has global production rates of 

almost 600 million tonnes per year. Wheat is the most traded, with 19% of global production being 

exported, compared with 13% for maize (including a large stockfeed component), and 4% for rice 

(FAO 2002). 

Wattle seed would be expected to face considerable initial resistance in the grains market, both in 

Australia and from importing countries accustomed to particular grains in their diet, as it is not 

sufficiently similar to other grains to be a direct substitute. Campaigns would be needed to educate 

consumers on appropriate ways to use wattle seed in food dishes and baking products. 

Generic food ingredients 

For generic food ingredients such as starch, protein and oil, the nutrition and processing 

characteristics of wattle seed, and their uniformity, are more important than aesthetic considerations, 

as most of these products are used in processed foods where they are blended with ingredients from 

other sources, and then disguised by various additives (colours, flavours, thickeners, emulsifiers, 

etc.).