Tea tree oil: from cottage industry to export powerhouse


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Glass dropper filled with tea tree oil

One of Australia’s emerging industry success stories – tea tree oil – is celebrating 25 years of growth, expansion and research and development (R&D) innovation, resulting in a doubling in production and established international markets.

Australia’s tea tree oil industry success story is a great example of what happens when producers and industry collaborate around a single vision driven by a desire to grow and expand.

Key gains include a jump from early oil yields of 100-150 kilograms per hectare to new cultivars which consistently yield 350-450 kg/ha. This increase in productivity has delivered an estimated annual $4.5 million benefit to growers and $75 million to the Australian economy over the last 17 years. Globally, Pure Australian Tea Tree Oil is an iconic product sold throughout the world and tea tree oil now generates more than $35 million a year in export sales.

Australian Tea Tree Industry Association Ltd (ATTIA) CEO, Tony Larkman praised the industry and welcomed the milestone, saying a number of contributing factors have taken the industry from strength to strength.

“The establishment of the Tea Tree Oil RD&E Plan 2018 – 2022 is a big win for industry and provides the structure needed to guide R&D investment and grow the industry,” said Mr Larkman.

“Ongoing R&D funding will ensure the industry continues to develop and tea tree oil retains its status as a key ingredient in healthcare, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, veterinary and industrial products.”

The industry success has been built on a platform of better oil quality, plantation productivity and the reliability and uniformity of planting stock from the breeding program. With product substitution and misrepresentation on the rise, consumers benefit from regulation of tea tree oil sales via an International Standard that specifies source and composition of the oil.

The burgeoning industry is the latest to join AgriFutures Australia’s levied programs, which gives producers more responsibility for ensuring ongoing funding for R&D and market expansion. Since July last year, tea tree oil producers have been contributing to R&D which will boost profitability, sustainability and productivity of the industry.

Twenty-five years of R&D also marks the transition from a successful, long-running partnership between AgriFutures Australia and NSW Department of Primary Industries’ (NSW DPI) Wollongbar Research Institute. New breeding programs run by Southern Cross University will build on the previous work by NSW DPI and CSIRO.

AgriFutures Australia General Manager, Research and Innovation, Michael Beer said the $6 million breeding program has been a significant contributor to the industry’s success.

“Investment in R&D has already delivered efficiencies in harvesting, distillation, storage and marketable oil benefits,” said Mr Beer.

“The levy arrangement will help overcome key challenges the industry faces, including staying competitive as international plantations grow in size and maturity.

“What producers, industry leaders and Australia Tea Tree Industry Association Ltd (ATTIA) members have achieved over the past 25 years is extraordinary. We’re proud of their achievements and look forward to ensuring ongoing R&D investment continues to grow the industry.”

Learn more: agrifutures.com.au/tea-tree-oil

Tea Tree Oil RD&E Plan 2018 – 2022: agrifutures.com.au/product/tea-tree-oil-program-rdande-plan-2018-2022/

Fact sheet: Tea tree oil industry – 25 years: agrifutures.com.au/product/fact-sheet-tea-tee-oil-industry-25-years/

Industry event: Industry members will be gathering on Thursday, 11 October 2018 at Tatham NSW for the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association (ATTIA) industry meeting and AGM.


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