SMALL seed growers are set to benefit greatly after Seed Genetics International’s recent completion of a $2.6-million export packing and logistics warehouse in Keith’s industrial estate.
SGI – Australia’s largest lucerne and white clover seed exporter – plans to add more product lines and expand its production.
The 1600-square metre warehouse can store up to 1000 tonnes of seed, with another 1200sqm to dispatch product once it has been blended, coated and packed. The custom-designed plant can handle a wide range of crop types, including lucerne seed, white clover and sorghum.
The facility can pack one to two containers a day for customers in Australia or worldwide, with each full container holding 10-21.5t, depending on the seed.
It is another exciting chapter for the company, which began in 2003 as Seed Genetics Australia.
The vision of the four founding partners Ross Downs, David Pengelly, Dennis Jury and Mark Harvey was to breed proprietary varieties with high seed and forage yields.
In 2012 the name was changed from SGA to SGI to reflect its global footprint, and a year later it was acquired by United States-based S&W Seed Company, which saw the opportunity to expand its operations in the southern hemisphere.
SGI’s varieties make up 55 per cent of Australia’s certified lucerne seed export market. Among its stable of high-yielding, non-dormant varieties are SuperSonic, SuperStar and SuperNova.
This year it also acquired SV Genetics in Qld, which owns a portfolio of sunflower and sorghum hybrid varieties. It expects to pack some of this seed in SA.
SGI sales and marketing manager Walter van Leeuwen said the new facility was a “strategic investment in the company’s future”.
Last month the site gained authorisation as a quarantine-approved premises from the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, and has also been accredited to handle, sample, package and label certified seeds through Seed Services Australia.
“This Keith plant has the ability to apply a wide range of customised seed treatments to a wide range of seeds for sowing, that can be packaged in units of five kilograms to 25kg, packed and shrink-wrapped on pallets in one smooth process,” Mr van Leeuwen said.
He said being able to pack to customers’ requirements and label these products would maximise returns.
Keith was the obvious location being the “heartland of lucerne seed growing” – SGI’s primary crop.
“With access to regional professional seed growers producing top quality seeds, locally-based certified seed cleaners and local service providers, as well as the proximity to the Dukes Highway, Keith is the ideal location for our facility,” Mr van Leeuwen said.
The spin-offs to the Upper South East community include the employment of four additional employees.
SGI received a $200,000 grant from PIRSA’s Regional Development Fund in 2014 to assist with the project.
The value of lucerne seed has doubled in the past five years on the back of robust demand and Mr van Leeuwen sees strong future demand.
The lower Australian dollar has made Australian seed sold to the US more cost competitive and SA’s GM-free status is an advantage to SGI supplying those markets who demand non-GM seed products.
“Our group’s mission is to be the world’s preferred seed company that supplies a range of forage, specialty crop and grain products to support the growing global demand for animal proteins and healthier consumer diets,” Mr van Leeuwen said.
“Consequently, we will continue to invest and cement our global presence in the seed industry.”
SGI Keith facility manager Russell Davis said the massive shed and surrounding land enabled them to centralise their breeding, research and development storage and administration.
It will also allow seed to be exported quicker after the lucerne harvest comes in.
“We will be able to store our mother seed and basic seed here rather than in the local cleaning sheds, maintaining the security of our intellectual property,” he said.
“Big lucerne tonnages are grown throughout Keith so anything that will deliver the best profit for growers will benefit the whole town.”
Lucerne Australia chairman Guy Cunningham said there was only upside for growers from SGI’s new venture. “There is always going to be part of the market that behaves like a commodity, but where companies can differentiate their seed and add value in the market, it has to be good thing,” he said.
Mr Cunningham said prices were as good as he had seen for “a long time”.
“While the dairy situation here and worldwide is definitely a concern, the other livestock industries are going along strongly and the stock levels of lucerne in Australia and elsewhere are pretty low,” he said.
MORE high-yielding lucerne varieties are another benefit of the merger between SGI Seeds and US-based S&W Seed Company.
SGI product development manager Jo Williams said growers had more options with hundreds of lines evaluated each year in Australia and the US in breeding programs.
She said SGI always had high-yielding seed varieties and S&W Seed Company’s varieties had been noted for their forage yields. The purchase of DuPont/Pioneer’s alfalfa breeding program in early 2015 has strengthened the disease and pest screening capabilities.
“The whole system is covered,” Mrs Williams said. “Evaluating seed yield here is important, but the forage yield and disease work has been done in areas where the end-point markets are going to be.”
In the past three years about six S&W Seed Company varieties bred in California have become available to Australian growers.
Six more varieties are in their final evaluation and bulk up stage – four which are a combination of Australian and US genetics and two entirely Australian.
Their dormancy ratings range from 6 to 10.