TASMANIA’S seed industry has expanded significantly over the past decade and one business in the state’s North has been growing along with it.
In the past few years, Tasmania Seed Dressing and Storage at Carrick has expanded considerably and is now playing a crucial role in the state’s seed industry. The company’s general manager Morgan Leath has recently overseen the commissioning of their latest piece of equipment, a new seed coating machine imported from Europe. The specialist machine can apply coatings to a number of different types of seed as required by the company’s customers.
“As far as film coating seed goes no one has a treater quite like this, so we put one in, so we’ve got the capacity and the ability to treat ryegrass,” he said.
“That was one of the original reasons and one of the other reasons was to take over the coating of poppy seed. We needed a specialty coater that can handle such a small precision seed. This type of coating, and it really is specialist coating, has grown beyond comprehension and now there’s significant volumes of oil seed, canola, being coated.”
The new addition means the company now has two seed coating machines, which has enabled them to increased the volume of seed they can now treat and value add at the Carrick site. Mr Leath said he expects the amount of coated seed they produce at the facility to grow over time.
“One thing I’ve noticed is now we’ve made this investment to install this latest machine, once clients know you’ve got the capacity to do it, that fields more inquiry,” he said. “Now word is getting around we’ve got this extra capacity, I’m already getting more calls.”
Tas Seed Dressing is also one of the state’s major seed cleaning and storage facilities. The company has four seed cleaning lines and with the seed harvest now in full swing the facility is currently operating 24 hours a day.
Mr Leath started working at Carrick 10 years ago after the business was established by its New Zealand-based parent company South Island Seed Dressing and Storage. Since then, Mr Leath said he had seen some major changes across the Tasmanian industry.
“I’ve seen the next generation of farmers coming through because when I started I was dealing with their fathers,” he said. “This generation are a lot more financially savvy so they’re pushing the boundaries to pay off their own debts. So they need to push up yields on their own properties so they’ve really been the drivers for this change.”
Mr Leath said the addition of more irrigation schemes along with improved genetics had seen significant increases in seed production across the state.
“I’ve seen a big change in terms of yields, varieties and how far farmers are willing to push the limits in order to increase their production and returns,” he said.
When Tas Seed Dressing was first established the site had 100 silos. Now that has increased to about 160 silos through the introduction of a unique private silo ownership scheme. Farmers now have the option of buying their own silo at the site. This enables them to have off-farm secure storage for their seed, which is monitored regularly, as well as priority processing.
“We manage the entire installation ourselves so everything remains consistent,” Mr Leath said.
“The biggest advantage to the grower is it provides them with a one stop shop. They can have their own vessel here and don’t have to pay the weekly storage fee and as long as the seed is processed here they don’t have to pay receival and delivery charges either.”
Mr Leath said some silos were also sub-leased to other customers during the rest of the year, which can provide the farmer owners with additional income. There is room at the site to expand the storage capacity to about 200 silos as required. As well as silos, the site also now has two new large sheds. One houses the new seed coating plant and there will be two additional high-capacity cleaning plants installed. The other, which has been recently completed will be used for storage of processed and bagged seed.
The new coating machine project cost $600,000 and was partially funded by a $100,000 State Government advanced manufacturing grant. As well as pasture seeds, the company also handles a wide range of vegetable seeds and pulses such as peas and beans, along with cereals, poppy seed and hemp. There are 15 permanent staff employed year-round.
During peak seed harvest season from early January to April staff numbers increase to about 45 and the plant runs 24 hours a day. Most of the seed that comes through the plant is processed and shipped out in the first six months of the year. Seed from the facility is shipped across the country and into export markets Quality control is crucial when it comes to seed processing and cleaning.
“It’s a crucial part to the chain because if you don’t have a place like this or Heazlewoods, where is everyone’s seed going to go?” he said. “The feedback we get from our clients is that we are at the top of our game and Tassie’s got this huge potential to keep that momentum going.”
Mr Leath said given the seed sector’s rapid growth over the past decade, he is confident the industry will continue to expand. One change he would like to see is more seed cleaning and value-adding done in Tasmania, rather than seed being shipped out in bulk to be processed in mainland facilities.
He said as well as the extra costs of shipping seed trash across Bass Strait, Mr Leath said there is a missed opportunity with bulk seed being sent out of the state unprocessed.