WA most successful emu farmers Arthur and Wendy Pederick have joined forces with a Chinese company to help develop the emu industry both locally and overseas.
The Pedericks airfreighted oil processing equipment to China last month as part of a $116,000 agreement which could see Australia turning to China for its emu products.
The Australian emu industry had struggled to get onto its feet after it was commercialised in 1988.
The Guangdong province in southern China ran about 5000 emus, supplying Hong Kong restaurants, and was keen to develop oil processing and other products.
Arthur and Wendy, who farm 600 birds on their sheep and grain property at Wagin, developed and now market the Kia Opala range of emu oil products, and have pioneered their own method of oil extraction and refinement.
It was their success that led to NSW Premier Bob Carr's trade and investment parliamentary secretary Henry Tsang seeking them out to help the province, which had a sister state relationship with NSW.
They have undertaken to help the Shenzhen New West Lake Co (SNWL) for the next three years.
The Pedericks saw the agreement as an opportunity to recoup some of the investment they had made during 15 years in an industry in which few farmers had succeeded.
The were assisted in their negotiation by Justin Laing, an export adviser for Austrade's TradeStart organisation based at the Great Southern Development Commission's Albany office.
The Pederick family had a steadfast belief in emu farming, but they had been frustrated by bureaucracy and lack of information and industry development.
Through their own efforts they had build an annual product turnover of more than $100,000 a year, through a worldwide mail order service to customers.
They also exported pure emu oil in bulk quantities to the UK, Czechoslovakia, Japan and South Africa.
Ironically, it was only the equipment and expertise they were exporting and not the birds - as Australian native fauna the emus cannot be exported.
NZ and the US had substantial populations and were not bound by the same regulations.
The US is estimated to have 1.4 million birds and many were used exclusively for game hunting.
The Kia Opala range, that included moisturiser, hand and body lotion, lip balm, and facial cleansers, also sold sport and arthritis balm and emu oil capsules.
Many people found the oil products therapeutic in treating a range of ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, skin complaints and inflammation.
Demand had grown by word of mouth rather than by doctors' recommendation, although the sports and arthritis balm was registered under therapeutic goods administration.
Arthur hoped the industry could present the medical profession with the scientific evidence it needed to turn around the fortunes of the industry.
Australian emu farmers were funding clinical trials and research by the Adelaide University at the Adelaide Royal Women and Children's hospital, which looked at the anti-inflammatory properties of emu oil.
It had been said that just one drop of good emu oil was the equivalent to a cup of inferior oil.
Arthur hoped the research would identify the most active oil, define the properties, and provide information on whether it was the result of processing, genetics, Australia's unique native plants and environment, or other influences.
The project followed earlier research in 2000, and was scheduled to be complete by August.
Until now the small size of the industry had been a major impediment.
If the research was positive, 500,000 birds a year would be needed to supply Australia's own requirements.
"If the research delivers then every farmer will run a few emus as part of farm diversification, because they are very productive and the workload is low," Arthur said.
"They can turn 100 grams a day of grain into money, and we need that critical level of production to warrant an abattoir."
In WA there were 15 registered emu farmers of which only three were operational.
Even Arthur found it difficult to justify his continuing involvement.
This year they did not allow their birds to hatch their young.
Instead they collected 3500 eggs, blew them and sold them to Europe in a niche market for egg carving.
They could not acquire the services of an export approved abattoir during the late spring, when each bird yielded maximum oil - up to 10L valued at $50/lt - as well as meat and leather.
Slaughter still remained a problem, and was the biggest hurdle for developing the local industry at its present scale.
"When we went into emu farming we knew we had to value add," Arthur said.
This philosophy led him to acquire the bits and pieces for a small oil production unit.
Using jacketed kettles that had been discarded by a hospital, and a centrifuge made for olive oil production in South Australia, he trialed and erred his way to success, with the help of a chemist, a fat renderer, and canola and olive oil processors.
On the way Arthur learnt to understand and analyse the quality and properties of his own oil.
In the same way he had put together a bigger, more expensive and sophisticated version for SNWL, and he hoped to learn something in the future from their experience in bulk processing.