AUSTRALIA is well known as an agricultural powerhouse, producing a diverse array of broadacre crops.
While the Australian landscape is synonymous with wheat production there are a lot of less well known crops that contribute to the $63.8 billion worth of crop exports that the national ag forecaster ABARES estimated were earned for 2017-18.
Sure you probably know your barley from your oats or your chickpeas from your lentils but do you know about some of the small-scale crops that Aussie farmers are planting.
Here’s seven lesser known crops that are being grown commercially in Australia.
The pungent spice is a familiar note in almost all Indian cookery.
The plant is a legume that has its home in the semi-arid regions of India.
In Australia, it has been grown in a similar manner to other pulse crops, especially on the alkaline soils in south-eastern cropping regions.
Fenugreek is a hardy crop, tolerating dry conditions, but it has fallen out of favour due to the better marketing options for other pulse crops that provide the same rotational advantages, such as chickpeas and lentils.
The hardy shrub is native to inhospitable parts of North America, including the Sonoran desert.
It is grown for its oil, which is widely used within the cosmetics industry.
The plant has been slated as a means to generate an income from country too dry to support traditional crops.
It has been grown through south-west and central NSW and due to its salt tolerance it has also been planted in parts of WA impacted by salinity.
Teff is a type of grass synonymous with the Horn of Africa, where a flour produced from its tiny seeds is used to make injera, the staple food of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The plant is adaptable, reflecting the wide range of climatic conditions in Ethiopia, although it performs best in what would be considered medium rainfall zones here.
The Australian teff industry is only in its infancy, but growers of the summer crop are confident it will become a permanent feature in rotations due to its nutritional make-up, which has led to it being dubbed the next ‘superfood’.
Safflower was a staple break crop in southern regions in the 1970s and 1980s, with plantings reaching 75,000 hectares across the country before canola overtook it as a suitable broadleaf break crop.
The crop is planted in the late spring, meaning it can be a risky proposition in the Mediterranean cropping zones of Australia where summer rainfall is unreliable.
However, in higher rainfall zones with better stored moisture, growers are again turning to safflower, attracted by its long tap root, which improves soil structure for following crops and its weed management options.
An obscure grain little known outside the Andes just 15 years ago, quinoa has burst into all consumers’ consciousness with a bang.
The small seeded grain is renowned as a superfood and health focused buyers are willing to pay large premiums for the product.
Today Australia has a developing quinoa industry, with plantings centred in northern Tasmania and the WA wheatbelt.
The crop is salt tolerant and can grow with limited moisture, but does not tolerate waterlogging well.
Guar is a legume grown across the globe in dry tropical zones, produced for the gum contained in its seed’s endosperm.
The gum can be used in a number of food manufacturing applications, primarily as a thickener.
It is an African species originally, but the majority of the world’s production comes from India and Pakistan.
In Australia, researchers found it could produce around 2-3 tonnes a hectare as a dryland crop in parts of Queensland under suitable conditions, however it is yet to take off, although new industrial applications for the gum mean people are once again looking at the crop.
· Coriander seed
Another herb that can be cultivated as a dryland broadacre crop, coriander has shown promising results, particularly in Western Australia.
While most Australians are familiar with coriander as a fresh herb, where the leaves are used, the plant can be taken through to seed.
Coriander seed is important in both subcontinental and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Initial results show the crop fitting in reasonably well with a conventional broadacre cropping rotation, although the extremely light seed makes it difficult to harvest.