Tea tree cutting trial strikes oil

TWO field trials of superior tea tree cuttings established by the NSW Department of Primary Industries on north coast plantations are expected to show significantly increased oil yields and lead to improved grower profitability.

DPI researcher Gary Baker said the cuttings planted in small trial plots near Casino had been selected from high-yielding varieties developed by the successful tea tree breeding project funded jointly by the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and the DPI.

"We have developed the technology to multiply high-yielding cuttings of tea tree to make more 'true-to-type' quality plants available sooner to industry," Mr Baker said.

"The advantage of planting cuttings over planting seedlings is in the early oil yield. Cuttings reach maximum leaf oil concentration in one year, as against seedlings which take three to four years.

"In the first year the cuttings should produce about 40% more yield than seedlings - which covers the extra costs associated with producing cuttings.

"The increased yield in years two and three is pure profit. After that, the cuttings are more likely to yield slightly more than the seedlings because they are 'true to type' and will give a more predictable result."

Mr Baker said the breeding project had made significant advances over the past 20 years in the quality of seed available for release.

"Yield data from a commercial variety trial established several years ago revealed a 70% yield increase for improved seed when compared to non-improved industry standard seed," Mr Baker said.

"Further progressive gains are expected with the development of each new seed orchard."

Mr Baker said newly improved seed was being sold to growers to plant new areas with seedlings.

"Sales so far for 2013 now total 377 grams - enough to plant 50 hectares," he said.

At $150 a gram, he said it was not a great expense per hectare to ensure much higher yields for years into the future.

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