Agave expertise: Mexican agronomist and agave expert Dr José Ignacio Del Real Laborde is working with AusAgave to establish commercial plantations of agave as a feedstock for a new dryland sugar industry.AusAgave CEO Don Chambers and Mexico-basedagronomist and agave expert Dr José Ignacio Del Real Laborde visitedAyr on Tuesday to discussthe potential of agave as a dryland cropping option for northern cane growers and beef producers.

Dr Laborde who has more than 40 years’ experience in research and development in plant physiology and agro-industrial production systemssaid growing agavewouldbe advantageous for those living in northern areas with low annual rainfall.

“It can withstand eight months of drought with no problems, while still producing sugar content,” he said.

“It doesn’t require a seasonal harvest either, which will provide extra flexibility for growers.”

Mr Chambers startedresearching Agave’suse in Australia in 2003 and 2004 with planting at the trial site located at Kalamia Mill in Ayr commencing in 2009.

“We’ve been getting unbelievably good measurements from the trial crop, it’s growing very well,” Mr Chambers said.

“It’s taken a long time to get to this stage, but we wanted to make sure everything was sorted out right the first time, before we started talking to potential growers and investors.”

He said once the company reaches full-scale operation, the business willhelp create employment opportunities and economic growth in rural and regional Australia.

Boost for graziers: AusAgave CEO Don Chambers said he’s excited about the prospects of agave as a dryland cropping option for northern beef producers and cane growers.

Mr Chambers said he hasstarted talking to interested parties around the North, including beef producers in Charters Towers where he said there is 800,000 hectares of land suitable for agave production.

“We are raising awareness about the potential of agave by showing that it’s a dryland crop, and that they don’t need to wait for a dam to be built in their region for it to be grown successfully.

“We’ll initially commence commercial plantingsfor the production of ethanol but with a longer term vision of initiating a robust foundation for the bio-futures industries in Australia and internationally in several African countries as well asBrazil andIndonesia.

”We want growers to take ownership of their production and hopefully value add to their crop by producing ethanol themselves.”

He said a 300 hectare crop wouldrequire a grower to have a harvester, tractor and an ethanol plant, but that the initial cost is offset by the low overheads required after initial setup.

“Agave has a three to five year maturation period but once it’s established it propagates by itself, so it won’t need extra labour apart from planting and harvesting times,” he said.

The company has more than 40 varieties of agave stock stored in a gene bank with a view to further refine selection varieties for use through commercial trait selection processes.

He said if the crop issuccessfullyestablished in the North, in the future a nursery and tissue culture lab will be built in the region.

Burdekin Shire Council CEO Matthew Magin said if growers respond to agave as a regular rotational cropping option it will be a “win-win” situation for the region.

“It would mean the mills could continue to operate and crush during the traditional off-season and mill employees would have work for all 12 months of the year,” Mr Magin said.

“Theirare many value adding opportunities that can be derived from agave production, that would underpin the regions economy going forward.”

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