Lavender oil tests are a hit

NSW DPI technical officer, Bob Lowe
NSW DPI technical officer, Bob Lowe, says chemical analysis of lavender oils is helping the small local industry to grow and improve management practices.

More and more NSW lavender growers are getting their oils chemically analysed with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) laboratory at Wollongbar to help them better understand their product and improve their management practices.

“Lavender growing in NSW is such a young industry, not a lot is known about how to raise yield and oil quality,” NSW DPI technical officer, Bob Lowe, said.

“Chemical analysis measures 20 key components of the oil and can help by letting growers know how close their oil is to matching existing Australian standards,” he said.

Mr Lowe said some growers were doing “mini-trials” on their farms and sending samples for analysis to see which practices were best.

“For example, most growers distil the oil from the harvested flowers on-farm. However, the distillation conditions and the period of time the flowers are distilled will have an impact on the quality of the oil produced,” he said.

“The method and timing of harvest may also make a difference, not to mention the cultivar or the age of the plant.”

NSW DPI is also keeping a database of management practices associated with oil analysis results, which over time, will help pick up trends and identify the most efficient and effective farm management practices.

Mr Lowe said there is an increasing demand for lavender in Australia – for the fresh and dried flowers and for the oil which is popular for relaxation and for culinary, medicinal and therapeutic purposes.

“Interest in growing lavender in Australia has also increased significantly over the last few years,” he said.

“There are many newcomers but the industry is still embryonic. The Australian Lavender Growers’ Association has about 320 members.”

He said Australia can grow a quality crop but production costs are higher than in many other producing countries.

The climatic requirement for growing Lavandula species is a temperate climate so most interest in growing the crop has been in southern NSW, Victoria and elevated regions of northern NSW and Queensland.

Australia’s largest grower is the Bridestowe Estate in northern Tasmania.

Many lavender plantings target the craft and aromatherapy markets and are often allied with tea rooms, bed and breakfasts or open gardens and nurseries.