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Grasslands in regional Australia
Research_

Indigenous Grasslands for Grain

Australian native grains for food, culture and the environment
Aboriginal people sustainably produced food from native ecosystems for thousands of years, including the world’s oldest bread. We work with Aboriginal people, farmers and industry to bring this system to modern agroecosystems and foods.

Finding solutions to modern food challenges requires an approach that understands people, plants, animals, markets and money, and the cultural context in which they operate.

Under the guidance of a cultural oversight committee, our work brings together experts in agriculture, environment and ecosystems, carbon sequestration, archaeology, business and marketing, economics, food science, nutrition, human health, social science, and human geography to re-create the native grain production system, which sustainably produced food for people for thousands of years in Australia’s variable climate and soils.

Our research

Our research goes from paddock to plate, growing hectares of dhunbarrbilla (native grain crops) at Narrabri then threshing, milling, and cooking the grains whilst researching both ancient and modern techniques in labs and centres throughout the University.

Species include mitchell grass, purslane, native millet, and other plants found in grassland and open woodland ecosystems which are known to have made highly nutritious ‘bush breads’ and similar products.

These are grown in various field trials at a hectare scale, food production is quantified, seed is tested for nutritional value and system profitability is modelled.

The cultural impacts of all stages of the value-adding chain are considered in consultation with Aboriginal people, as well as potential importance to economic development in remote communities and human health benefits for people everywhere.

Community engagement is central to the research strategy, and the vast majority of this is done on Country. We run workshops for people of all ages, from daycare to high schools, from NAIDOC events in the park to farmer field days, from co-teaching with TAFE to co-planting with Landcare, from presenting at academic conferences to creating videos of research results.

University students are heavily engaged in this research, with honours, masters and PhD candidates looking at various aspects of the paddock-to-plate system in their discipline, whether it be science, geography, archaeology, nutrition, economics, or other research areas.

Most of our public events involve eating native grain food together in some form. Food brings people together and understanding how to sustainably manage the land and produce food is a challenge we must work on together.

Current research projects

Funding from Agrifutures

This project has two parts, both aimed at increasing the ability of industry to sustain native grains enterprises.

Part one, led by Black Duck Foods, is the creation of an RD&E plan for the native grains industry. Wide consultation with stakeholders will be conducted and their priorities for research, development and extension brought together to create a cohesive plan for future investment in the emerging industry.

Part two, led by the University of Sydney, will combine the knowledge of seed processing technologies from published sources with experience in multi-species seed processing to test various options for processing native seeds to food grade.

This information is the first step to empowering industry to bring down the cost of processing field harvested samples into food-grade grain, which is currently the greatest roadblock to the success of native grain enterprises.

Funding from Sydney Institute of Agriculture

This project has brought together a multidisciplinary research team to complete one iteration of the food system from paddock to plate, including associated economic modelling, the establishment of environmental indicators and a discussion of the potential cultural significance of bringing back traditional food species to Aboriginal people.

This process will quantify the potential of the system in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability (triple bottom line), then benchmark the system against current best-practice cropping in the district.

Funding from National Landcare Program Smart Farming Partnerships

DigiFarm is a multimillion-dollar project demonstrating best-practice farming through digitally connecting data flows from farms and environmental productivity.

The project investigates the economic and environmental role that native grasses play due to their ecosystem services. Three field systems are being tested – native food only, native grains and cattle grazing, and native grains and winter cropping. 

Research is based at Llara, a 600 ha property that forms part of the University’s Narrabri campus.

Philanthropic funding

Could including native grains in the diet improve health and protect against chronic lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

This is a co-designed research project with Aboriginal communities to investigate the potential for native grains to nourish and mitigate cardiometabolic disease risk in these vulnerable populations.

Resources

Native grains from paddock to plate: study of the economic, environmental and social sustainability of an ancient system in a modern context.

A 40-page full-colour report of how native grains might work in modern food systems, and how ancient and modern knowledge can be combined going forward.

YouTube video playlist

Footage of growing, processing, cooking, and eating presented by a diverse range of knowledge holders and researchers. Great information for industry and a general audience.

Research results and discussions for industry:

Exploring the potential for native grass production in the Northern Tablelands of NSW: a case study

The economic viability of adopting a native grains enterprise on a farm is explored in this report. A model farm is used to investigate the farm gate price of the grain, costs of production, and other business factors, which would make a native grains enterprise competitive against other potential cropping or grazing options in its cultural context.

Australian Native Food and Botanicals Market Study

Supported by ANFAB and the University of Sydney, this report gives a snapshot of what is produced, where it is produced, the challenges facing businesses and opportunities for growth in the native food industry.

Review of native grains research

Academic review of native grain research. Includes references to both Indigenous and other knowledges on the topic, plus a call to action for future research and industry development.

Webinars:

Podcasts:

Short videos:

Webinar for educators:

Classroom recipes:

 

Partner or connect with us

Wherever you are in Australia you can see native grains research grow. Visit our crowdfunding page to get involved.

We are privileged to partner with industry, Aboriginal groups, farmers, and other research institutions. Please contact native.grains@sydney.edu.au for more information.

Connect with related projects, teams, and partners

Project lead

Angela Pattison
Dr Angela Pattison
View academic profile