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  • Renee Cluff

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    New condiment cropping project combines sugar and spice

    Tropical North Queensland sugar cane farmers are trialing spice production as part of a new project to create a northern Australia condiment industry.

    The $1.2 million spice cropping initiative is being led by CQUniversity in conjunction with the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA).

    It will see five high-value crops - cumin, fennel, kalonji, caraway and black sesame - taken from small to large-scale production within three years, after glasshouse trials showed they had strong potential for inclusion in broadacre crop rotations.

    “These small trials will be across several different locations and used to assess the suitability of crops for wide-scale commercial production in northern Australia,” said CQUniversity’s Dr Surya Bhattarai.

    “Commercial trials are due to start in the project’s final year, by which time we will also have a comprehensive manual for producers detailing which crops to grow, the best areas to grow them and an outline of the market and supply chain opportunities,” he said.

    It’s hoped a spices and condiment industry in northern Australia would not only replace imports but also generate exports to Asia and the Middle East in a global trade estimated to be worth around $12 billion annually.

    For sugar growers, it provides new break crop opportunities as well as further diversification, reducing reliance on the volatile global sugar market.

    CRCNA CEO Jed Matz said the project has the potential to transform northern agribusinesses.

    “This project will build the supply chain links needed to establish a new and viable industry for northern Australia and create new income streams for producers,” he said.

    Six Queensland farmers between Rockhampton and Tully are involved in the trial.

    The project will eventually also be rolled out across the Northern Territory and Western Australia to achieve the long-term goal of establishing a base level of local spice crop production.