[ASC-media] CSIRO: Double gain for tea tree oil industry

Rebecca.Eveleigh at csiro.au Rebecca.Eveleigh at csiro.au
Tue Jul 10 01:27:43 CEST 2007

10 July 2007
Ref 07/126
Double gain for tea tree oil industry

A nine-year breeding programme has resulted in a new 'breed' of tea tree which could increase the Australian industry's competitiveness by dramatically increasing production volumes of high-quality tea tree oil.

Tea tree oil is a significant part of Australia's essential oil industry - it is incorporated into many personal care and household products and is also used in a variety of agriculture and veterinary applications. 

The Australian industry is slowly recovering from several years of decline when oil prices fell below the cost of production for many producers.  Recent increases in demand and higher prices have seen renewed interest in growing tea tree, however, other challenges face the industry such as the threat of increasing overseas competition. 

The breeding programme forms part of an industry breeding strategy developed by Ensis scientist, Dr John Doran, who says if Australian producers are to maintain their commercial viability, they need to give serious consideration to replanting with the best material the breeding program can provide.

"The improved seed will be able to produce plants that are capable of producing 270kg of oil per hectare from paddocks that would otherwise yield 148kg of oil per hectare, if established with unimproved seed," he says. "This is a greater than 80 per cent genetic gain."

Gains of this magnitude were possible using the breeding program's clonal seed orchard seedlot. The principle source of oil is Melaleuca alternifolia, a medium-sized tree from the coastal plains of NSW. Due to the tea tree's highly heritable commercial traits and as a result of the relatively simple strategy, Ensis scientists were able to deliver industry an effective seed in a relatively short time frame.

The Australian tea tree industry has welcomed the significant tea tree oil yield gains achieved through the program. 

Craig Chapman of Melaleuca Plantations of Bungawalbyn, NSW says without a successful and ongoing breeding program Australian producers were at risk of losing their competitive advantage to overseas producers. "I am now confident in ploughing out older sections of my plantation and replacing them with the higher yielding varieties," Mr Chapman says. "The increased oil concentration in the leaves is particularly significant now that distillation costs have risen dramatically in recent years."

Dr Doran says Ensis' strategy was based on similar, proven breeding programs for other hardwood plantations. "The aim of the tea tree breeding program was to increase the yield of high quality oil per unit area by improving yield of leaves and concentration of oil in those leaves, while ensuring that the oil produced is of a specified and consistent quality to maximise its marketability."

The breeding program commenced in 1993 with funding and support from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association and was implemented through Ensis and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Dr Doran says the demand for the improved tea tree oil seed was excellent before the industry downturn and is now on the rise again. He is looking forward to the program releasing higher yielding seedlots and clones next year.

*Ensis is the joint-venture in forestry and forest products research between Australia's CSIRO and New Zealand's Scion. 
Further Information:

Dr John Doran, Ensis
02 6281 8319		john.doran at ensisjv.com
Media Assistance:

Indra Tomic, Ensis
03 9545 2236		indra.tomic at ensisjv.com
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Beck Eveleigh
Media Assistant
CSIRO Media Liaison
6276 6451
0409 395 010

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