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In the July 1995 issue of the Newsletter we included a report by Dr Lee Peterson on the commercial production of essential oils in Tasmania by the company, Essential Oils of Tasmania. There was considerable interest in this article and we received numerous request for copies. In the following article, Professor Bob Menary, Professor of Horticultural Science at the University of Tasmania reports on the research undertaken in Tasmania on essential oils and on the development of a closely integrated approach between research and markets .Professor Bob Menary,
The University of Tasmania, together with the Tasmanian Development Authority , has initiated the commercial development of essential oils in Tasmania and has conducted research on peppermint, spearmint, parsley, fennel, boronia, dill and blackcurrant. This research has been directed at establishing a scientific base from which production models can be developed, modified and implemented. In this article, I briefly outline the approach we have used and provide some examples of the research and its commercial applications.
Our basic philosophy has been that the objective of all essential oil research is to enable the industry to produce profitable products. To achieve this objective, research can be directed towards:
We have seen it as essential that the research be market-driven as this will impact on all the aspects listed above. More effective production can result from a plant improvement program involving breeding and selection, provided the aim is to produce products which improve market share.
Research into agronomic and horticultural practice in production is aimed at producing better products at a lower cost, and is therefore market driven as in each case the potential for profitable marketing is enhanced.
Research into more efficient processing is important, partly to reduce costs and partly to improve product quality. In both cases, the marketing prospects are likely to be enhanced.
Nowadays, with the emphasis on quality regulation, buyers tend to require detailed specifications for products, usually based on the organoleptic properties and important quality components of the oil. However, quite often maximisation of compounds specified in an oil does improve the quality of the oil. Research to produce evidence of the value of a change in composition is necessary to establish a new standard or a variation of an existing oil. Eventually, the market may become interested in a specified range of the composition of an oil. An example of this is the demand for a particular range of composition for tea tree and peppermint oils.
Where the demand for a particular type of oil is high, research on how best to achieve that type is useful. The ability to present the type of product demanded might be obtained through either production or processing techniques.
Markets always respond to products presented in an attractive manner. From the buyers' point of view the most important aspects of products are: price; quality and effectiveness; time of availability; constancy and reliability of supply. While accepting that research should be market driven, a balance has to be maintained between what the market demands and what it can have. Some sections of the market demand a consistency that nature simply does not provide.
Mixing or blending of oils is one way to obtain high and consistent quality, but this requires extensive experience and it must be complemented by extensive quality assurance procedures in the field to ensure that the best possible product is available for blending.
The success of research in production and processing must be related to industry needs. These must be identified through appropriate industry structures which also play a vital role in technology transfer. In the first instance, the success of the research must be judged through feedback from end users. The research program must have sufficient flexibility to respond to new initiatives which may flow from end users, the trade and producers. Ultimately, the benefits of research must be measured in economic terms.
The Tasmanian research program
The commercial success of the Tasmanian Essential Oils Industry can be attributed to a number of factors including:
A feature of the Tasmanian program has been the close interaction between market research and product development at all stages from basic research, developmental research, adaptive research, technology transfer to final commercial production. A comparable interaction has occurred between management research and development. These interactions have involved agricultural scientists, economists, agri-business, farmers, extension specialists, marketeers, processors and end users. To achieve effective interactions, industry structures have had to be established to facilitate the exchange and interchange of information on marketing, production and research, and to facilitate and fund new research initiatives.
Some examples of the research and development conducted at the University on Tasmania on essential oil crops are given below to demonstrate the link between technology and industry in the quest for productivity and quality.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
In peppermint production an important link between the genetic material and the final product is the interaction between plant development, oil synthesis and the environment. A number of basic studies have elucidated the interactions involved and have provided the data necessary to plan the optimum frequency and timing of harvests, and the optimum fertiliser and irrigation regime. Detailed studies of photosynthesis have provided a photosynthate model which explains environmental effects on oil composition.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
The main component in fennel oil is anethole which is the source of anise or licorice flavours for confectionery or alcoholic drinks, such as Pernod. Several studies have been undertaken to improve productivity in fennel and lower production costs. These have included studies on the requirements for flower initiation and flower development, the role of anti-gibberellins in reducing excessive vegetative production and the effect of leaf removal on the number of flower umbels and oil yield.
C14 studies have shown that leaves do not contribute to assimilate in flowers and, therefore, increased leaf number does increase assimilate flow to the inflorescences. Leaf thinning studies have shown that only three fully expanded leaves are required for normal inflorescence development.
The studies have, also, shown that some 92% of the oil in the plant is contained in the umbels and demonstrated the value of modifying harvesters to remove only the umbels. If umbels only are removed, the volume of material to be distilled is reduced to about one-quarter of the volume when the whole top is harvested. With this reduced volume of material, the percentage of anethole is increased from 65 to 75% with a consequent saving in distillation costs.
Boronia (Boronia megastigma)
Boronia is a native of Australia which produces a highly prized extract used in flavour and perfumery. Extensive research has been undertaken on breeding, propagation, harvesting, and extraction to optimise flower and oil yield whilst maintaining the odour and flavour characteristics of the product. Studies on the physiology of flowering have led to the development of a flowering model which emphasise the interrelationships between climate, nitrogen assimilation, assimilate distribution and flowering. This model has been used to develop management techniques to achieve high yields. In particular, the interaction between climate and nutrition on flower bud development have important implications in site selection and fertiliser practice.
The above examples illustrate the role that basic research directed at developing viable commercial production and meeting market demands can have on the development of improved crop genotypes and improved cultural practices.
Any claims made by authors in the Australian New Crops Newsletter are presented by the Editors in good faith. Readers would be wise to critically examine the circumstances associated with any claims to determine the applicability of such claims to their specific set of circumstances. This material can be reproduced, with the provision that the source and the author (or editors, if applicable) are acknowledged and the use is for information or educational purposes. Contact with the original author is probably wise since the material may require updating or amendment if used in other publications. Material sourced from the Australian New Crops Newsletter cannot be used out of context or for commercial purposes not related to its original purpose in the newsletter
Contact: Dr Rob Fletcher, School of Land and Food, The University of Queensland Gatton College, 4345; Telephone: 07 5460 1311 or 07 5460 1301; Facsimile: 07 5460 1112; International facsimile: 61 7 5460 1112; Email:email@example.com
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originally created by:GK; latest update 6 June 1999 by: RF