Grand plans to grow the tea tree oil mar­ket

Re­search and devel­op­ment pro­vides new ef­fi­cien­cies

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Front Page -

THE tea tree oil in­dus­try has been rapidly ex­pand­ing in Aus­tralia, as in­creased pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties are paired with the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of nat­u­ral prod­ucts.

Dee-Ann Prather has been in­volved with the tea tree in­dus­try since her par­ents started their plan­ta­tion near Lis­more, 23 years ago.

When the tea tree oil in­dus­try faced a mas­sive over-sup­ply in the early 2000s, Mrs Prather helped her par­ents find a new mar­ket for their prod­uct in the United States, where she was liv­ing at the time.

Mrs Prather now runs her own busi­ness, Down Un­der En­ter­prises, where she sells whole­sale es­sen­tial oils, has her own tea tree oil plan­ta­tion with her hus­band Phil, and is also part of the AgriFu­tures tea tree ad­vi­sory panel.

AgriFu­tures and the Aus­tralian Tea Tree In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion have had a tea tree breed­ing pro­gram for 25 years.

“It ef­fec­tively is se­lec­tive breed­ing. We’ve been able to get mas­sive ef­fi­cien­cies and the pro­duc­tion has in­creased,” she said.

Al­though tea tree is na­tive to Aus­tralia, there is also some pro­duc­tion in China, South Africa and Kenya.

Mrs Prather said re­search and devel­op­ment helps Aus­tralia stay ahead of the mar­ket.

“Tea tree is such an iconic es­sen­tial oil. It (R&D) helps us to stay ahead of the mar­ket,” she said.

“Aus­tralia is the big­gest pro­ducer by far. We pro­duce about 900 tonnes a year.

“There is a five-year plan that Agrifu­tures and the ATTIA have in place, which is to pro­duce 1500 tonnes of tea tree oil over the next five years.

“If we in­crease pro­duc­tion to that, we need to make sure the mar­ket is there to ac­cept the in­crease.”

Mrs Prather said she does be­lieve the in­dus­try will reach the goal.

“There are more farm­ers plant­ing tea tree and ex­ist­ing farms are plant­ing more,” she said.

“The new trees are higher yield­ing and we are also able to se­lect trees that are more frost re­sis­tant, so we are more ef­fi­cient.”

A 25c per kilo levy from pro­duc­ers’ tea tree oil prof­its, also goes to R&D.

“The money from the levy goes to AgriFu­tures and the tea tree ad­vi­sory panel works out how to best spend the money for the in­dus­try – im­prov­ing sup­ply, im­prov­ing de­mand and ex­ten­sion.”

❝such Tea tree is an iconic es­sen­tial oil. It (R&D) helps us to stay ahead of the mar­ket.

— Dee-Ann Prather

PRO­DUC­ING TEA TREE OIL

TEA tree plants grow to about 18 months old be­fore they are har­vested.

“We har­vest it close to the ground. The whole tree is chopped up and put into the har­vester bin,” she said.

“That bin is taken to a dis­tillery where the biomass un­der­goes steam dis­til­la­tion.

“The lid on the bin is tied down so steam doesn’t es­cape. A tube goes into the bin and as steam goes up, it breaks the sack of the tea tree leaf.

“It trav­els into a con­denser that cools the liq­uid down. It goes into a sep­a­ra­tor, to sep­a­rate the oil and wa­ter, which hap­pens nat­u­rally, and the oil is tapped off.”

Mrs Prather said through R&D in breed­ing, tea tree oil pro­duc­tion has seen a huge in­crease.

“The old farms, like my mum and dad’s for ex­am­ple, pro­duce around 150kg per hectare,” she said.

“But the newer plan­ta­tions, like ours, yield about 450kg

per hectare.”

Tea tree is usu­ally har­vested once a year.

“It’s gen­er­ally har­vested be­tween June and Septem­ber,” Mrs Prather said.

“But it’s sub­ject to weather and can start ear­lier or fin­ish later.

“Our har­vest this year was bril­liant.

“We’re a rel­a­tively new farm. We had one small har­vest, a year be­fore last. Then we had a big­ger har­vest in May this year, and we had re­ally good yields.

“Now we have our own farm we are very ver­ti­cally in­te­grated. We spend a lot of time mak­ing sure we have new mar­kets.”

PHO­TOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

TREMEN­DOUS OIL: A tea tree plan­ta­tion be­ing har­vested.

Dee-Ann Prather hold­ing har­vested tea tree plants.

CASSANDRA GLOVER Cassandra.glover@ru­ral­weekly.com.au .

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