On the parched ground on the north-west New South Wales farm of Andrew Mullins there is one crop towering above the rest.
Mr Mullins has been trialling an Indian mustard seed crop in collaboration with researchers at the University of Sydney’s Narrabri-based Plant Breeding Institute.
While some of his wheat and oat crops struggle to thrive, it seems the mustard seed has flourished despite the lack of water — you might even say it’s loving the drought.
“It seems to be performing alright for very little rain; it’s had 12 millimetres fall the entire time it’s been growing,” he said.
“It would be three or four foot (120mm) with a lot of pod filling well on it too.
Mr Mullins is trialling the crop for researcher Graeme Rapp, whose research began in 2008.
He has found yields more than double in a dry year, compared to a wet one.
The oilseed crop is related to canola and also produces a yellow flower, but Mr Rapp said there was one distinct difference.
“The thing that’s different about it is that is has a parent that will handle extremely hot, dry conditions as opposed to canola,” he said.
“The drier it gets, the higher the tonnage of seed.
“In a dry area we have found the crop goes to about four to four and a half tonne [of seed] and half the amount of biomass.”
That figure is compared to about 1.6 tonnes and double the amount of biomass when grown in a moist area.
2019 marks first harvest
The trial crop growing on Mr Mullins’ farm will be harvested around the end of October or start of November, with the seed to be sent to an oilseed processor.
Mr Mullins will also receive an income in yet another dry season. He said harvest would give a much better indication of the crop’s potential for northern growers.
Mr Rapp said the harvest would provide extra insights into the quality of the seed, and if the processor was happy with the end product. He said the processor would buy the crop at a higher price than canola, potentially in the vicinity of $700 a tonne in the premium oilseed market.
“We work on a closed loop market, whereby the processor buys directly from the farmer,” Mr Rapp said.
“The farmer doesn’t have to pay any of the delivery.”
Many market opportunities
Indian mustard seed can be used for a variety of purposes including food products, pharmaceuticals and more.
“We can look at industrial type products like engine oils, hydraulic oils, bioplastics. Even with the possibility of development of air frames for aeroplanes using structural bio plastics,” Mr Rapp said.
Mr Rapp was hopeful the crop would become a reliable, drought-tolerant solution in the future, with prolonged dry conditions predicted to become more frequent.
“We don’t really understand the breadth or the depth of its ability to be able to provide economic benefit to our regional communities, farmers and small business people.”
While Mr Mullins was optimistic, he said there was still a long way to go when it came to securing markets and building an industry.
“Once we can tie down a market that can handle a large quantity of it, it’s going to be a great crop for the area,” Mr Mullins said.
“It’s still got a little way to go before it proves itself as a real option.”
Originally published by ABC News.
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