World's Best Wort Still In Paddocks

February 4, 2000 The Rural News

With a world over supply of St John's Wort thousands of tonnes of the wild plant remain unharvested this season in Australia.

Wort flowers that could have been cut to provide hypericum in pharmaceuticals used globally will instead have to be sprayed by farmers across eastern Australia where it has long been declared a noxious weed.

Wild Herbs Australia, a company with approval to harvest some of the biggest stands of wild wort with the highest levels of hypericum, have had to scale back on the tonnages this summer because the commercial growers in other parts of the world have a glut.

Wild Herbs general manager, John Davison told The Rural News this week that quantity has given way to quality in the second ever harvest of wort, the area where plants have been sourced has also been restricted to parts of central New South Wales and the Southern Highlands and Monaro.

"We've cut wort of outstanding quality. It should ensure that Australia keeps its reputation for having wort with the highest levels of hypericum in the world," Mr Davison said.

"We've been selective this harvest, mainly around Rylstone, Blayney and Wyangala, hut with small amounts of wort from Tumbarumba and Cooma.'

Mr Davison said here was never any real point pursuing wort right across the southern part of the State this summer with commercial growers in Europe and Chile producing more than the market demanded.

"Last year we had the harvest running for months, starting almost as soon as there were massive stands of flowering plants:' he said. "We started around Mudgee and moved through the Central West, around the big dams at Windamere, Burrendong and Wyangala, down south through the Riverina to Tumbarumba and Cooma and across the Murray into parts of Victoria."

"While we wanted to do much the same this summer, we had to harvest to market demands and this has been a disappointment to our company. But this is a market driven industry. We encouraged numbers of property owners to support the venture in the first season and want to keep faith with them because they are important to what can be a new industry."

"This is only our second summer and there are 100,000 hectares of country covered in wort.

"A large proportion of this wild wort can be harvested as part of a control strategy to prevent plants adding to the seed load." Wort infested pastures cost property owners an estimated $22.5 million annually in lost production and adopting measures to control and eradicate a declared noxious weed. But the harvest of designated areas as part of a control could generate income $50 million per annum.

Mr Davison said that this summer's harvest will be much shorter than a year ago. It should conclude towards the end of February compared to the summer of 1999 when wort was cut, dried and packed through until March.

"The rest of the world produces wort in commercial crops and has been growing it for hundreds of years, but crops don't compare to wild wort with levels of hypericum." Mr Davison said.

"Wort was introduced to Australia because of its medical properties, but it became noxious growing out of control impacting on economies of grazing livestock. But the wild Australian strain of wort is by far the best quality in the world for extraction of hypericum. That is the strength of our industry and we have to continue to play to that."

Mr Davison said orders for Australia's wort is mostly coming from the United States.

There is also improving inquiry from Europe. Mr Davison said Wild Herbs Australia is very keen to maintain contact with all of the landholders who have participated in discussions over the past two summers and will be comparing the two seasons of harvest shortly.

An assessment will also he made of the future, which will include decisions on investment in equipment for 2001.

Mr Davison said the establishment of company headquarters at Millthorpe between Blayney and Orange has worked well this summer, putting the receival and drying operations central to all wort suppliers.

He said that he ties binding the company with the Department of Regional Development have also grown stronger. The department in NSW has been supportive of initiatives being undertaken offshore.