NZ's world-leading seed industry just keeps growing

Whether you've eaten a carrot here in Aotearoa, in Guatemala or in a quaint cafe on the shores of Lake Como in Italy, there's a one in two chance that carrot was grown from a Kiwi seed.

"NZ is set to produce approximately 50% of the world's carrot seed," says Ivan Lawrie, general manager of business operations at the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR).

"We're also very very big on radish seed. We're the world's largest producer of radish seeds."

The seed industry is perhaps the forgotten sector of New Zealand's world-renowned agricultural sector.

"I think it is the engine room of the agricultural industry of New Zealand. Everything that happens in NZ in agriculture and the farming sector, in one way or another is linked back to the seed industry," Lawrie says.

He's worked in the sector for close to two decades, and has seen the market more than double in size.

Exports alone are a $300 million business.

"We have a very good climate for growing seeds in NZ, and we have probably the best farmers in the world who have the skills to pull it off."

Profitability is still a hurdle to getting more Kiwi farmers on board, particularly compared to beef and dairy.

But adding some seed crops to your farms is more than just about a dollar value, says Lawrie.

"Another enormous benefit is by integrating arable systems with livestock systems, you have the possibility to use your crops as a potential mop-up for any excess nutrients that might be derived from your livestock enterprise."

He says continued growth in the seed industry doesn't have to come at the expense of other parts of the agri-sector.

"Because we're a plant-based sector, we often get tainted with views of we want to eliminate, eradicate, or push over the livestock industries. That is not the case.

"We all need to work together on this to reach the best results, and New Zealand needs to be working in unison so we can get the best environment and social impacts out of it."

He and his team at FAR are always looking for new markets to explore, as shown by a project set up a few years ago in the Wairarapa to grow durum wheat, most commonly used in pasta and almost exclusively imported here.

Michael Williams and Henry Reynolds are two of the farmers who signed up to grow durum, and they say the first few trial seasons have gone well.

Reynolds says durum wheat stood out among many of the new crops they've tried.

"It handles the dry and tolerates the wet a little bit. It certainly doesn't yield as much as your typical wheat but quality-wise, we haven't had too many issues."

Williams says Kiwi-grown durum offers a point of difference for those using it.

"In pasta it's called the 'bite'," he says. "How it feels, that initial chew. It's real soft on the bite. And the flavour and the colour are really good."

With a few successful early years behind them, they're now hoping to ramp up production.

"It's still very small, would be roughly 12 hectares of durum grown this season. But we'd certainly like to see that grown tenfold in the foreseeable future."

Which would be great news for some of their consumers, like the Clareville Bakery just down the road.

Wairarapa durum flour has provided the basis for two award-winning sourdough recipes, and bakery owner Mike Kloeg says it's one of the most popular products they sell.

"It's quite a creamy or quite a yellowy sort of crumb which is very characteristic of the wheat which you can see here as well," he says.

"Really appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with local growers. Using local ingredients is pretty high on the priority for us and yeah, it's been a really good journey."

Equally, the farmers appreciate getting to see their product put to use by their local community.

"We went in there the other day and helped him do the sourdough, it's really one-on-one and it's cool to keep it like that and get a feel for what's happening to your flour, where it ends up and actually trying it at the end," Reynolds says.

Williams adds that getting feedback from the likes of Kloeg and the team at Clareville is also crucial for them, and that when you can see whose table your product ends up on, "that's pretty cool".


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