WHILE the horticulture and livestock sectors have done amazingly well in promoting their products as premium lines through concepts such as the Farmers Market movement, in general it is a niche that has by-passed the broadacre cropping industry.
Rupanyup farmer Scott Niewand, however, is doing his bit to change that – selling a range of top-end pulse products at markets across Melbourne.
The idea for his Wit’s End range of pulses came after moving back to the family farm from Melbourne earlier in the year.
“There are a lot of people eating pulses in the cities, but I was surprised to find they often did not know they were being produced in Australia.”
He then packaged up retail-sized bags of chickpeas and lentils and started selling the products at markets.
The products at this stage include Kabuli chickpeas, PBA Ace large red lentils and Hurricane small red lentils.
Down the track Mr Niewand is looking at further additions to the product roster and to expand production.
“It’s a bit of a labour of love packaging them into 650 gram packets manually, but from a business point of view there is a significant premium there.”
Worked out on a per tonne basis, the packaged products make around $6500-7000 a tonne, compared to an average bulk lentil price of $700/t and chickpea value of $800/t.
Mr Niewand is quick to point out this is not an accurate way of weighing the two up given the extra costs and time involved, but says value-adding gives another string to the cropping enterprise.
“I’ve done around five tonnes all up across the three different products in bags and the demand has been very strong.
“It is never going to take our entire crop, but if we got it to the stage where it took 10 or 20 per cent, then I think it would be a valuable diversification strategy, especially with the volatility in pulse prices.”
Mr Niewand said urban consumers appreciated the back story behind the product.
“We get out there and tell them about the Wimmera, about the pulse industry here and how we produce a clean and green food source that is good for the environment and good for your health.
“They really like the traceability side of it, the whole paddock to plate message.”
“It’s probably something broadacre agriculture as a whole needs to get a little bit better at, selling the good news story behind it, we need to look at the way other boutique products are marketed.”
Mr Niewand said pulse consumption was increasing in Australia.
“I saw pulses appearing more and more on menus when I lived in Melbourne and I thought there was the opportunity there.
“They are a staple of a lot of vegetarian diets and people are also becoming increasingly aware of the health benefits.”
He said he had enlisted the help of a dietician to give a list of the dietary benefits of pulses, while he also has compiled a list of recipes on his website.
“A lot of Australian families probably don’t have as much familiarity cooking with pulses as those from the subcontinent where they are an everyday product.
“Having the recipes there allows people to have a go and the feedback has been they are very pleased with the results.”
The next step for the business will be bringing more product lines to market and to scale up the packing process.
“It is probably outgrowing the hand packing process we are using now.”
He said bridging the urban / rural divide was paying dividends with the business.
“It’s about getting out there and selling your message, it has happened in other parts of agriculture and I think it is something the cropping sector can have a look at too.”