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CLIMA looks to add value

AFTER eight years as a partially Federal Government-funded Cooperative Research Centre, the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture has reopened as a private body.

CLIMA had its $2.5 million federal funding cut off in June 2000 and has spent the past year reforming.

This year it will receive $3 million of its $4 million research budget from the Grains Research and Development Corporation and some in-kind contribution from its four core partners the WA Department of Agriculture, the University of WA, the CSIRO and Murdoch University.

CLIMA director Kadambot Siddique said the organisation wanted to value add to the legume industry, which includes peas, faba beans, lentils and chick peas, and pasture crops such as lupins.

Legumes are vital to agriculture because they offer crop rotation options that can add value.

They have some surprising benefits too.

CLIMA grain legume project leader Mark Sweetingham said even the humble lupin, more commonly used as sheep fodder, had potential.

Lupins hold high levels of isoflavones, a protein that can be used in the treatment of some cancers.

Isoflavones have been removed from soybean crops and it is predicted the market for the protein will be worth $US1.2 billion by 2007.

But WA’s legume crops have been hit by disease, pests and the drought that has blighted the wheatbelt.

Chickpeas, one of the most valuable legume crops at $500 a tonne, have suffered from production stability problems.

Professor Siddique said the WA legume industry needed to improve the size, colour and milling properties of its crops.

“Our researchers are doing brilliant work but they don’t communicate well. We need to find ways of protecting our intellectual property and new ways of doing business. We have to attract private sector investment,” he said.

Dr Sweetingham said the WA legume industry had always assumed it was a price taker, but the price could be raised by $30 a tonne.

“The world vegetable protein market is a vibrant area. The agricultural industry is moving away from carcus meal after the BSE crisis,” he said.

“Soybean meal is the big kid on the block so WA needs to be a niche marketer.”

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