Black sesame seed crop proves drought resistant during central Queensland's warmest summer
Aug 12 2018
Australians are one step closer to seeing locally grown black sesame oil and ice cream products on supermarket shelves, with the first commercial crop harvested in Queensland.
Australia currently imports all of its black sesame. It is mainly used for oil but it can also be used for food flavouring, cosmetics, and is claimed to have health benefits.
The seed is grown in the driest parts of India and scientists say it is one of the most drought tolerant crops in the world.
That is why a central Queensland farmer has teamed up with university researchers, a specialised seed company, and the local council to grow the first Australian commercial crop of black sesame seed.
Crop grew in QLD's warmest summer on record
Peter Foxwell is a dry land farmer at Alton Downs, west of Rockhampton.
He grows a range of crops without irrigation, relying just on rain.
"Black sesame was suggested as a possible alternative crop to what we do here, they thought it would suit the area, the black soil the climate and the rainfall," Mr Foxwell said.
The trial saw 12 black sesame seed varieties planted on 16 hectares of Mr Foxwell's property in February and it was harvested in June.
Last summer was Queensland's warmest on record and only 120 millimetres of rain fell on the crop.
"Five days of 40 degrees plus [heat] as it was just coming out of the ground," Mr Foxwell said.
"We had one day which was 41.1 [degrees] which is the hottest February day since 1969 I think for Rockhampton. This poor sesame was struggling through and I thought that was the end of it."
Dr Surya Bhattarai is a university researcher involved in the trial.
He said despite very little rainfall, the crop performed extremely well.
"To our surprise and the surprise of the growers we have been able to see a very attractive crop," he said."This crop has proven to be drought tolerant ... this gives an opportunity to harness the option of drought tolerant crops for our region."
On average one hectare can produce 4.5 tonnes of seed and up to 60 per cent of its weight in oil.
Black sesame is valued at $1,600 per tonne and it is considered a high value crop.
"The price difference between standard sesame oil and black sesame is about five fold," Dr Bhattarai said.
The trial also involved specialised seed company AgriVentis Technologies.
The company wants to develop plants with higher yields, disease resistance and lower water requirements without using genetic modification technology.
"Australian farmers and growers are not normally gamblers," the company's head of research and development Paul Stewart said.
"If they can count upon something that's a good partnership with them to grow to ensure how they can turn their business into a profitable business they're going to grow to rely upon that."
International interest in locally grown product
The hope is that the Australian seed is as good as anything grown elsewhere around the world, with the aim to export it.
A group of European representatives looking at agricultural opportunities in Australia is interested in Australia's black sesame seed.
"We can take them to Turkey and produce them for our market, our neighbouring countries, but also continue producing here as we are close to the biggest market like China and India," Ali Tetik from Turkey said."It may be a good opportunity for us to produce here and export to those countries as well."
Rockhampton Regional Council's senior executive of trade and investment said the success of the trial could see central Queensland become Australia's home to black sesame production for both the domestic and international market.
"From here we're actually expanding the trial. So a more commercial level instead ... and from then on we'll start connecting buyers and food processing companies to add value to the industry and direct exports from CQ," she said.
While the first harvest had a lot of interest, there is still a long way to go before black sesame is grown and sold widely in Australia, let alone overseas.
This year's harvest will be used to test quality and seed next year's crop.
"A tonne of seed would be able to plant about 1,000 acres of black sesame. It creates an enormous potential very quickly," Mr Foxwell said.
"There's been some discussion since ... which would tend to indicate to me that people are willing to give it a go.
"I'd say probably most of them would be keen for me to have a second year and see if it's a success again in the second year, then they might have a crack.
"There's a lot of excitement around the region."