Wakool nursery first outside WA to grow sought-after CSIRO fodder plant

By Daneka Hill

Have you ever tried to buy a plant, only to be put on a lengthy wait-list?

Since it became a commercial fodder crop in 2015, the saltbush variety known as Anameka has been a hot ticket among sheep farmers looking to drought-proof their properties and regenerate paddocks.

Unfortunately for eastern states farmers, only one WA nursery has the right to grow Anameka and until last year their tiny amount of contract growers were all located in the isolated western state.

After four years of expensive freight costs, Tulla Natives nursery in Wakool has become the first ever commercial grower of the CSIRO-developed plant outside WA.

Nursery owners Stacey Waylen and her fiancé Marc Brooke begun Tulla Natives five years ago off the back of the native plantation they established for their fresh cut flower business.

“It has been a journey with a learning curve all right,” Miss Waylen said.

“We get a lot of phone calls from farmers looking for plants. At a rough estimate I would say I get four to eight inquiries a day.”

Miss Waylen said it wasn’t out of the ordinary for a farmer to drive 200 km to visit the nursery and inspect the plants.

“There is a wait-list for Anameka, it is very popular,” she said.

“It adds a lot of value in drought areas and we grow it under contract for Dustin and Lisa (McCreery) at Chatfields.”

Anameka cuttings growing en masse in the nursery.

Tulla Natives sent out its first ever Anameka plants in mid-July, and the response is promising.

“The feedback has been great from farmers who say the plants are growing well. It also helps this season has been a ripper for growing conditions,” Miss Waylen said.

“We started with 35,000 plants in our trial group to get a feel for the plant and they’ve all sold straight away.”

Miss Waylen said about half of their 35,000 Anameka plants went to farmers in the local region who were all “well aware” they were buying the nursery’s trial season.

“A lot of our orders were smaller orders for experimental sites on the farms,” she said.

East Loddon Merino Stud was one of those local farms. The wool sheep breeders had five rows, each 1k m long, sown with Anameka seedlings across a bare rice country paddock.

The stud farm contracted Miss Waylen and Mr Brooke to plant the Anameka on-farm with their tree planter tractor attachment.

“A lot of farmers want two, three or four thousand plants but don’t want the headache of putting them in the ground,” Miss Waylen said.

“Generally we’ll contract plant for farms within a 400 km radius from us, give or take depending on the price of the job and our availability.”

At a later date the Anameka on East Loddon Merino Stud will be inter-planted with other native grasses and saltbush varieties to further improve pasture quality and provide protection for lambing ewes and recently shorn sheep.

The CSIRO spent 10 years developing Anameka from saltbush seeds they collected in NSW.

The plant has been selectively bred to be palatable and nutritional for sheep and it is less prone to growing tall, getting woody, and grows more vigorously compared to the wild type.

All plants grown by the nurseries are clones of one specific plant — Anameka is propagated from cuttings, and cannot be grown from seed.

Tulla Natives nursery is planning to start 140,000 Anameka seedlings for its 2021 season.