AGRICULTURALLY, the South East of South Australia has a lot going for it.
Livestock production, cropping, viticulture, dairying and horticulture are all strong industries in the region, but it boasts another key industry – small seed production.
The region’s Mediterranean climate and a readily available supply of underground water, coupled with balanced soil types, make it an ideal location for seed production.
Naracoorte Seeds managing director Jamie Tidy says the advent of centre pivots has seen small seed production really take off in the South East.
“From the 1970s until early 1990s, you were limited in what you could grow by how much irrigation you could be bothered moving, but these days people have got pivots covering over 80 hectares which can be started by their mobile phone,” he said.
“We had one particular client this year who produced 100 tonnes of clover seed off a 60ha pivot.”
Mr Tidy said seed production was a high-risk industry.
“If you’re growing an aerial seeding annual clover such as Persian, if you get rain at harvest you’ll sprout the seed and ruin the crop,” he said.
“With a 40ha pivot you might be looking at 50t crop at $3 a kilogram, but if it rains at harvest you’ve gone from a potential $150,000 crop to grazing it for sheep feed because the seed is going to be of poor quality.”
Frances and Kybybolite are two of the biggest areas in the South East which produce clover seed.
But further north at Keith, the region is the biggest producer of lucerne seed in Australia, making up 85 per cent of the nation’s production.
Landmark Naracoorte key account manager Craig Hole looks after a number of farmers who produce small seeds.
He said the areas in which they undertake small seed production in the region are generally the “pick of the country”.
“We don’t get the extremes in climate that areas further north get,” he said.
“If you’re looking at sub clover production you need a dry patch over early summer to suck the seed up off the ground and we generally get that.
“If you go further south you don’t get too many hours in a day so it makes it harder to harvest and further north, the summer temperatures are too high to irrigate.”
Vegetable seed production is quite common around the Lower South East, with South Pacific Seeds the biggest producer in the area.
Mr Hole said vegetable seed production could be a good alternative, having produced some carrot and brassica seed himself.
He said a good crop can be extremely profitable but a bad one can be a disaster.
“Carrots are prone to Rutherglen bug and it is a 13-month crop, so you have to dedicate an area to that for over a year,” he said.
“It is a big undertaking and to get a crop through you’ve got to dedicate that amount of time to a set area, so you’ve got to be sure you can make some money out of it, as there is a lot riding on it.”