Research into ways of protecting and sustaining Western Australia's $15m a year sandalwood export industry were discussed at a workshop at The University of Western Australia (UWA) recently.
Industry, government and key local farmers were briefed by UWA’s researchers on ways to increase oil quality and quantity in the sandalwood genus, including:
- understanding heartwood formation (Professor Julie Plummer)
- how the genes in the sandalwood biosynthetic pathway were discovered and the new understanding of oil quality we now have with the discovery of these genes (Dr Chris Jones)
- the capacity of heartwood rot to increase oil quantity (depending on where the infection entered the tree) (Dr Liz Barbour).
The Rural Industries Research Development Corporation (RIRDC) workshop, “Sandalwood oil: Genetic solutions developed to improve quantity and quality”
was opened by Forest Products Commission (FPC) General Manager David Hartley, who said that sandalwood is the fastest growing tree crop industry.
He said there were more than 5000 hectares established in the Kununurra area and 15000 in the south west and new plantation area was increasing by more than 2000 hectares a year.
Mr. Hartley said that "The crop is developing into a significant export industry whilst at the same time adding a deep rooted perennial to the landscape providing many environmental benefits that help sustain farming"
The sandalwood research has been carried out in conjunction with the Forest Products Commission over the past seven years, with key research at UWA done in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, and the WA Department of Environment, funded by RIRDC and the Australian Research Council.
New research, with Murdoch University and Elders Forestry, will investigate further the fungal response within the sandalwood tree and its ability to spread. Immediate management solutions are also being monitored to minimise the negative response of the disease.