Spelt could handle climate change

Spelt production in Australia is currently estimated at 4000 tonnes, lapsing behind growing demand for specialty grains and their products within the health food sector.

Estimates suggest markets currently exist for approximately 10,000 tonnes of organic spelt grain per annum with an on-farm value of $10 million (de-hulled), and retail value of $19.2 million.

The current estimated retail value of processed organic spelt products is $7.7 million.

The greatest demand is for organically produced specialty grains; however, poor yields and market irregularities are frustrating industry expansion.

Currently many processors are opting to import grain in an attempt to maintain a consistent supply or as a last resort, thinking about stopping production altogether.

Estimates suggest more than half the volume (around 10,000 tonnes) of these specialty grains or their products (eg flour) required by Australian processors is currently imported, thus offering opportunities for import replacement.

Some processors suggest if supply irregularities were solved, increased confidence in the marketplace could see the demand for these grains double over the next few years.

The introduction of specialty crops will increase on-farm biodiversity and provide increased crop rotation options for organic farmers.

Environmentally, the seeming adaptability of spelt and other specialty grains suggests they may have a role to play in Australia’s marginal agricultural landscapes and in traditional cropping zones as the impacts of climate change are felt.

Some overseas research suggests spelt, Kamut and cereal rye are able to perform better than many traditional grains (such as wheat) under limited nutrients and water availability, therefore they will help to sustain productivity and profitability of organic cereal-pasture enterprises.

A new project conducted by researchers associated with the EH Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation (a collaborative alliance between NSW DPI and Charles Sturt University) will aim to develop more reliable cultivars of spelt and other specialty grains for organic production.

The three-year project is supported with funds provided through the Rural Industry Research and Development Corporation’s (RIRDC) Organic Produce Program.

Other groups involved in the project include the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment, organic farmers from three NSW regions (Cootamundra, Coleambally, and Grafton) who will be directly involved in spelt selection and agronomy experiments, and The Biological Farmers of Australia Co-op Ltd. (BFA).