Researchers behind a new study into the precision metering of the sandalwood tree's large and irregular seed believe engineering could drive a revolution to meet Australia's agricultural needs.
The results of the sandalwood study, to be published in the journal Biosystems Engineering, were borne out of a need to reproduce the unique and increasingly in-demand crop with the immediate focus on land rehabilitation projects.
Sandalwood (Santalum) is hemi-parasitic in nature, which makes it dependent on nutrients and water from the roots of neighbouring trees. Native sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) depends on trees such as the native wattle. Over the last 150 years, there has been a decline in natural sandalwood stands in the Grainbelt of Western Australia due to land development, unsustainable harvesting practices and a decline in the Woylie population, a native West Australian marsupial and natural propagator of the sandalwood tree.
"Precision metering of sandalwood seeds could benefit rehabilitation and commercial projects by minimising seed wastage and allowing larger areas to be seeded with consistent seed spacing," co-author Assistant Professor Andrew Guzzomi said.
Precision metering until now presented a significant challenge due to the large and variable size of sandalwood seed.
The study on the specific requirements of a mechanical precision seed meter for sandalwood was undertaken by final year project student Dylan St Jack under the supervision of Associate Professor Dianne Hesterman and Assistant Professor Guzzomi from The University of Western Australia's School of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering.
They discovered that sandalwood seeds can be accurately metered through vacuum singulation techniques, an established mechanical method of precision seeding. The published results discuss the design of a modified seed meter for sandalwood and detail links between the dynamic behaviour of the seed pool, the meter speed and the performance of the meter.
"What this project highlights is the link between agriculture and engineering that is so important for Australia's future in terms of food security, rehabilitation and sustainability. It is an important connection that is not yet being fully realised in Australia," Assistant Professor Guzzomi said.
Research Assistant Professor Andrew Guzzomi (School of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering and UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 3883
Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 5563 / (+61 4) 32 637 716