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Grasslands in regional Australia

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. This project works with Aboriginal people to bring this system to modern agroecosystems and foods.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) produces grain high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Finding solutions to modern environmental and cultural problems requires an approach than understands people, plants, animals, markets and money, and the cultural context in which they operate.

This project aims to bring together cross-disciplinary experts 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.

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

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

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

Saltbush threshing

Hand extraction of seed of old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia) is time consuming and labour intensive. Combining traditional knowledge with modern technology is a key priority for this project.

Our research

The multi-disciplinary research includes these elements:

  • Animals
  • Agriculture
  • Environment/ecosystems
  • Biodiversity
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Historical/archaeological
  • Business and marketing
  • Economics
  • Food sciences
  • Nutritional research
  • Human Health
  • Human geography
  • IP and Law

Community engagement is central to the research strategy, and the vast majority of this is done on-country. Locations of current field operations include the University’s campus at Narrabri and surrounding farms, the TAFE training fields at Moree, and on Aboriginal managed land in the region.

The project includes engaging students from school to university level, with links with the University’s Wingara Mura - Bunga Barrabugu program ("Thinking Path to Make Tomorrow"), the high-tech development of new crop varieties by the Plant Breeding Institute, multi-disciplinary research in the Sydney Institute of Agriculture, undergraduate teaching, and industry engagement.

Resources for industry and education

Public reports:

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.

  • 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.

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.

Short videos:



Connect with the project

Interested in a financial partnership?

Wherever you are in Australia you can see native grains research grow! Visit our crowd funding page here.

Looking for a research partnership?

We are privileged to partner with industry, Aboriginal groups, farmers, and other research institutions. Please contact for more information.

Connect with related projects, teams, and partners

Current Projects

Project Title:

Modernising Indigenous Native Grains Processing and Industry Development


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 a 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.

Project Title:

Paddock to plate: native grain food ecosystem

Sydney Institute of Agriculture

This project has brought together a multi-discipline research team to complete one iteration of the food system from paddock to plate, including associated economic modelling, establishment of environmental indicators and 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.

Project Title:

DigiFarm: a digitally enabled agroecosystem

National Landcare Program Smart Farming Partnerships

DigiFarm is a multimillion-dollar project demonstrating best-practice farming through digitally connecting data flows from farm and environmental productivity. It is based at Llara, a 600 ha property which forms part of the University’s Narrabri campus. The economic and environmental role that native grasses play due to the ecosystem services they provide and diversification of income is being investigated. Three field systems are being tested – native food only, native grains + cattle grazing and native grains + winter cropping.

Student engagement:

Native grain germination, yield, nutritional value, food properties, market value and more

University of Sydney

This project collaborates with a number of efforts to engage students of all cultures from high school, TAFE and University around native foods.

For example this project supports the Wingara Mura - Bunga Barrabugu Summer Program for Aboriginal students in years 10 to 12.

This project has an ongoing relationship with TAFE NSW, with a field at the Rural Skills Centre, Moree being used for native grains research which is also used by TAFE for teaching. This project employs an Aboriginal trainee through AFLSportsReady, who is currently working towards a Cert III in Conservation and Land Management.

Completed university level projects include:

Jenifer Widjojo – MSc, Utilising Australian native grasses in the modern food market: Panicum decompositum

Sophie Fowler – BFAB (Hons), An Evaluation of the commercial viability of Australian native grains

Melissa Zhang – BFAB (Hons), Characterising the nutritional composition of Australian purslane (Portulaca oleracea) varieties under different nitrogen and water availabilities

Tamlyn Huyhn – BFAB (Hons), The nutritional profile of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and its drought-resistant mechanisms

Tracy Leung – BFAB (Hons), The potential for Portulaca oleracea L. as a commercial crop in Australia

Marc Manzoni – BFAB (Hons), Increasing the germination potential of native Australian plants

Samuel Padgett – BEnvSys (Hons), Watching grass grow: germination of Australian native grasses

Angela Pattison

Research Scientist
  • +61 2 6799 2239
  • 12656 Newell Highway Narrabri NSW 2390 I A Watson Grains Research Centre