NEW CROP IN THE WET TROPICS
EDIBLE PUMPKIN SEED TRIALS
25 NOVEMBER 2021
They’re green, crunchy and packed with goodness – and they’re being grown for the first time in the Wet Tropics. Pumpkin seeds are a new crop for the Tully region, with trials underway to expand a burgeoning industry that’s based in Victoria.
Cane, pineapple and pumpkin producers Michael and Peter Ottone are one of three Far North farming families to harvest pumpkins grown specifically for their seeds, not their flesh.
The brothers planted five hectares on their Bilyana property this year, after a trial block last year.
“This Styrian pumpkin variety is a little different – its seeds naturally have no outer shell or husk, making them easier to process and eat,’’ Peter said.
Most pumpkin seeds eaten in Australia are imported
Most pumpkin seeds eaten in Australia are imported pepitas, largely from China. Australian Pumpkin Seed Company, a family business, began commercial production of edible pumpkin seeds in south-east Queensland 19 years ago and is now based in Victoria. The business is looking for more farmers to come on board in far north Queensland to expand their supply operation.
The Ottones learned about the industry through a Soil Health Innovation Tour to Victoria, organised by the Wet Tropics region’s natural resources management organisation Terrain NRM. Australian Pumpkin Seed Company’s Pepo Farms was among a series of properties visited by farmers during the tour, which focused on innovations in soil health and farming enterprises.
“I didn’t know anything about this crop before the trip but after visiting the growers I was interested to give it a go,’’ Peter Ottone said. “We see pumpkin seeds in our kids’ cereal, in breads and as snacks, and pretty much all of it is coming from outside Australia. We already grow organic pumpkins, so this is a new challenge for us.”
Growing global industry
Pumpkin seeds are a growing global industry. Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Jodie Tubb sees potential for seed production in the Far North, especially given pumpkins are already a crop in the region.
Ms Tubb has overseen trials on farms from Tully to Rollingstone in the past two years, after deliveries of seeds and harvesting equipment from Pepo Farms following the soil health innovation tour.
“The crops that have been trialled up here look good,’’ she said. “Elements that we need to fine-tune include row spacings, when the crop is planted and management systems.”
“Farmers didn’t get the returns this year, based on last year’s calculations. Coronavirus restrictions caused some issues, with travel restrictions between Victoria and Queensland, and with labour shortages causing harvesting delays.”
Earlier plantings recommended
The Ottone brothers say earlier plantings would be recommended for the Far North.
“The biggest thing is getting a good crop and we were pretty happy with it,’’ Peter said. “But we didn’t get anywhere near the tonnage we were hoping for, and with a later harvest than ideal, we had softer pumpkins, making harvesting more labour intensive.
“Future considerations would be planting the seeds a lot closer and planting a bit earlier in the season, so the harvest is also at a time when we’re not busy with other crops.”
An idea from the Soil Health Innovation Tour
Terrain’s Wet Tropics Regional Agricultural Facilitator Evizel Seymour said initiatives like the soil health innovation tour were helping Wet Tropics farmers to gain fresh perspectives.
“One of the benefits of farmers learning from farmers is bringing back technology they discover in other parts of the country for trials in North Queensland,” she said. “These trips are all about networking with other farmers who are following good soil health practices, seeing these practices first-hand and hearing about innovations, challenges and successes.”
The soil health innovation tours are supported by Terrain NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.
EDIBLE PUMPKIN SEEDS – THE LOWDOWN
Unlike many other pumpkin seeds on the market, Styrian pumpkin seeds have no husk to remove either mechanically or chemically. This variety originated through a natural mutation about 300 years ago in the Styrian region of Austria and Slovenia.
Three-quarters of Australia’s edible pumpkin seed crop is eaten as a healthy snack.
A quarter of the crop is pressed into pumpkin seed oil. The compressed dry matter is used to make gluten-free and vegan-friendly flour used for cooking, athlete supplements and pet food. The rest of the pumpkin, which has a bitter taste and high water content, goes back into the paddock as mulch for soil health.
The harvesting machine has a spiked wheel to pick the pumpkins, which are then dropped mechanically into a crushing drum and pulverised into small chunks. The seeds are collected and they go through a washing and drying machine before being packed.