Tea trees more than gold

Gary Baker
NSW DPI tea tree breeder, Gary Baker, with two kilograms of superior tea tree seed worth about $160,000.

It's worth three-times its weight in gold, but that hasn’t stopped tea tree producers lining up to get their hands on some.

At $80 a gram, superior tea tree seed bred by NSW DPI at Wollongbar represents 14 years of research and development. And for growers riding the resurgence of the tea tree industry, it’s not a great expense per hectare to ensure much higher yields for years into the future.

NSW DPI tea tree breeder Gary Baker said yield data from four harvests of varieties developed by the joint NSW DPI-ENSIS breeding project had revealed an average 72 per cent improvement on the current industry standard.

“With these new varieties and renewed optimism in the industry, growers are doing their sums to assess the cost-benefit of planting new areas or replanting earlier,” he said.

“At planting rates of seven grams to the hectare, it is a cost that is repaid many times over the life of the plantation.”

With funding from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association (ATTIA), the research team at Wollongbar Agricultural Institute has worked on the breeding project since 1993. The project began with field trials to determine the genetic variability in oil yield and quality from native stands and industry plantings.

Coin highlights how small tee tree seeds are
Tea tree seeds are tiny – one gram equals more than 50,000 seeds.

“In the late 1990s, one of the trials was progressively culled of inferior trees to become a seedling seed orchard and together with a clonal seed orchard produced the first improved seed in 1999.

“Seed from these orchards was expected to give improvements of 60 per cent but the gains have been above 70pc.”

Mr Baker said the breeding project had already distributed more than seven kilograms of seed to the industry, enough to plant more than 1000 hectares of tea tree plantation.