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Plant science research can strengthen the Northern Rivers natural product supply chain


Sharlene King
2 August 2016

Primary producers and industry processors will learn how Southern Cross University’s research in plant science can support the Northern Rivers regionally-sourced natural product supply chain at an industry open day tomorrow (Wednesday August 3).

The Southern Cross Plant Science (SCPS) Industry Open Day at the Lismore campus is being held in conjunction with SCU Research Week. This year’s theme is Regional Food and Bioresource Innovation.

Professor Graham King, director of SCPS, said the event - the second in a series - was an opportunity to learn, engage and network.

“We want SCU to drive a new ‘Green Revolution’ for this unique sub-tropical region and to have global impact through its scientific innovation and training. There is a real opportunity for the Northern Rivers to become a major player in the domestic and export markets for ‘clean, green produce’ - be that high value fruit, specialty coffee, tea tree and other essential oils or other medicinal plants.”

Professor King said the World Health Organisation estimated that trade in medicinal plants was set to grow to US$5 trillion by 2050, and the global market potential for nutraceuticals alone was estimated to grow from US$164bn to $289bn by 2021.

“At SCPS, we are fortunate in having a combination of academic and technical skills in agronomy, genetics and chemistry that enable us to deliver research and development that supports vertically integrated industries. This enables us to identify sources of variation that can contribute to enhanced yield, quality and uniqueness of product for food and other supply chains.”

Southern Cross University Chancellor Nick Burton Taylor AM, who has extensive experience in agribusiness, is giving the keynote presentation on 'Connectivity: a producer's perspective' during the opening session at 9.45am.

Ben Roche, director of Engagement at SCU, will discuss the federally funded $13.8 million national Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Pilot Program, being led by the University, in his presentation ‘Farm and SME collaboration programs’ at 2.40pm.

“In addition to networking, the Industry Open Day is an opportunity to hear directly from primary producers and processors who add value to ‘global niche’ products,” said Professor King.

“The program includes an open panel discussion with industry leaders, focused on ‘How SCU can contribute to unleashing innovation in the Northern Rivers’”.

Industry guest speakers include Australian Macadamia Society CEO Jolyon Burnett, and Pam Brook, chair of Northern Rivers Food and co-founders of Brookfarm.

Another highlight of the Industry Open Day is a tour of the SCPS facilities, including laboratories, herbarium and a tea tree field site.

Professor King said plant breeding was a key area where SCPS, through its expertise in genetics and genomics, was demonstrating its commitment to long-term development of regional industries.

“Over the past year we have been successful in securing funding from Horticulture Innovation Australia for projects focused on developing an open-source genetic roadmap to underpin future macadamia breeding and to lead the national passionfruit breeding program in close conjunction with the passionfruit industry.

“During 2017 we will be extending our portfolio of pre-breeding and breeding and are keen to work with emerging industries to secure and characterise genetic resources that drive innovation in the market-place and adaptation to specific growing conditions.”

Southern Cross Plant Science
The Southern Cross Plant Science research centre is made-up of academic staff, highly skilled and experienced technical staff and a growing population of postgraduate students, many of whom work on projects directly involved with and often funded by primary industries. Active regional research partnerships include niche industries of global importance including tea tree, macadamia, passionfruit, coffee, mustard oil, rice and industrial hemp. The quality of SCU’s research in plant science has consistently been recognised as being of high international standard, and benefits from strong overseas collaborations such as those in China, Malaysia and the UK, which enable state of the art approaches and technologies to be applied to high value crops and products.

Within SCPS, the Analytical Research Laboratory supports and trains postgraduate and other students across the University. It has a wide commercial customer base for research services underpinning the supply chain for high value medicinal plant products and essential oils; a market that is seeing rapid growth due to increased demand from Asia for validated natural products.

Professor Graham King, director of Southern Cross Plant Science.