Seeds sown for sandalwood success

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

A little nut from a tree grown prolifically across WA's Wheatbelt is starting to make waves on the international cosmetic stage, with names like Chanel and Dior showing more than just a passing interest in the refined product.

Farmers have long known of the saleability of the wood harvested from the sandalwood tree, but now the seed from the plant is making a name entirely of its own.

According to Wescorp executive chairman Tim Coakley, markets for sandalwood seed oil are looking increasingly promising and his company is now on the hunt for a reliable product stream.

He believes the nut from the sandalwood tree could be the elixir the industry needs to keep it alive.

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"The Aboriginals have used this product medicinally for a long time and we've now proven its benefits scientifically," he said.

"Cosmetic companies are doing their own tests and we are confident that the benefits will be proven."

Mr Coakley said farmers needed more than the promise of good returns 35 years down the track to invest time, money and land in sandalwood plantations.

Speaking at the unveiling of the State's first imported mechanical sandalwood seed harvester at Chatfields Tree Nursery in Tammin last week, Mr Coakley said if farmers could achieve 200kg/ha of seed, it was economical for them to harvest the seed.

"If you can achieve 3kg per tree, you are starting to talk some serious returns," Mr Coakley said.

Imported from Italy, the machine uses two hydraulically adjustable brushes to sweep the nuts from the ground where they are thrashed and cleaned.

But the harvester will only operate on suitable plantations, on carefully prepared soils that are relatively free of sticks, rocks and long grasses.

According to Mr Coakley, the harvester also requires at least 3.2m between tree lines.

"The preparation of the soil underneath the trees will dictate how fast and easily we can harvest the seed. Preparation is the key," he said.

"In the future, farmers will really have to consider how they set up their plantations," he said.

"We would estimate there are 20,000ha of sandalwood plantations in the Wheatbelt and 10,000ha of that wouldn't be suitable for this harvester.

"But I think there is a huge potential for this industry, it's enormous."

_According to Australian Sandalwood Network chairman Bruce Storer, there has been industry discussion on the potential of the oil from the sandalwood seed for many years. _

"This harvester means we are taking the first step in terms of getting a return out of the seed," he said.

"Looking at the numbers, it's very encouraging and should give growers confidence in the industry."

_Wescorp, which exports about 80 per cent of the State's sandalwood, has purchased the harvester in partnership with the indigenous family of well known Aboriginal musician and artist Richard Walley. _

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