Victorian farming couple working to grow Australia’s elderberry industry, in a Europe-dominated market

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In short: For centuries the elderberry shrub has been transformed into everything from cold remedies to cordial. The global elderberry market is expected to grow by almost $400 million in the next five years, but Australia currently relies on European imports.What’s next? One farming couple is determined to grow Australia’s elderberry industry, from the ground up.

Karen van Huizen is used to having purple-stained hands.

For the last seven years, she and her husband Paul have been growing elderberries in Victoria’s Indigo Valley.

With its candy-coloured stems, snow-like flowers and tiny purple fruit, the elderberry plant is native to Europe and North America.

Paul and Karen van Huizen sell their elderberry products at farmers markets, and are eager to grow the Australian market.(Supplied: Karen van Huizen)

Today elderberry can be found in everything from cordial to cosmetics due to its high levels of anthocyanins — the antioxidants which give the berries their intense purple pigment.

But Ms van Huizen — who now sells elderberry products at farmers markets across north-east Victoria — says most Australians have never heard of it.

She says their customers often mention the Elton John song Elderberry Wine, but that’s as far as their knowledge goes.

“Whereas the Europeans and the Scandinavians will flock to us, often using their country’s traditional name for it, such as holunder in German,” Ms van Huizen said.

Elderberries are attracting the attention of consumers and scientists, due to their high antioxidant content.(Supplied: Karen van Huizen)Discovering elderberry

The van Huizens themselves discovered elderberries by chance.

“My mum and dad were travelling in Canada and rang to say they’d just had this amazing yoghurt with elderberry,” Ms van Huizen said.

“And when I read the flowers are traditionally used for springtime allergies and the berries for flu symptoms, I thought, ‘Why aren’t we growing this here?’”

According to the University of Missouri, the global elderberry market is worth an estimated $US320 million per year.

Elderberry is used in a range of medicines and health supplements.(ABC Rural: Faith Tabalujan)

And Ms van Huizen says this figure could nearly double.

“The global industry is supposed to grow by $US264 million in the next five years,” she said.

That’s equivalent to nearly $AU400 million.

“So it’s a huge market, and I’m wondering how can we tap into that.”

Currently all the elderberry products on Australian shelves are imported.

Anthony Jacobs, from Elderberry Australia — an initiative of sustainable ingredient supplier Green Blue Health — says the vast majority of those products come from Europe.

“Most of the pharmaceutical grade Haschberg variety is grown in Austria’s Graz region, to be used in supplements,” he said.

“Ukraine and Hungary supply wild-picked varieties to be made into juice concentrate colouring agents, because they vary in quality.”

But Mr Jacobs says he and his group are investing in a homegrown elderberry industry.

“We’re working with labs and universities to promote elderberry education through research,” he said.

Elderberry Australia’s Anthony Jacobs says elderberry is a key ingredient in US and Chinese health supplement markets.(Supplied: Elderberry Australia)Growing pains

Ms van Huizen says there’s only a handful of Australian elderberry growers, with the largest being Ashbolt Farm in Tasmania.

“Anytime I find one [elderberry grower] I’ll give them a call, and I’m working with one or two to see how we might build the industry.”

But Ms van Huizen says the lack of local cultivars — varieties bred specifically for Australian conditions — remains a challenge.

“We’ve put in a lot of plants and pulled a lot out … but we consider ourselves a trial site so we’re still doing plenty of research,” she said.

From her farm in the Indigo Valley, Karen van Huizen is working to establish an Australian elderberry industry.(Supplied: Karen van Huizen)

According to Mr Jacobs, elderberry production is a labour-intensive crop.

“It’s a very hardy plant as it grows well with average to limited rainfall, and survives low temperatures,” he said.

“But the biggest obstacle for farmers is the need to manually harvest the berries and flowers.”

What to ‘adapt or adopt’

Ms van Huizen knows growing elderberry takes effort.

“I would spend seven hours picking and de-stemming a seven-kilogram bucket of berries if I did it all by hand,” she said.

But Ms van Huizen says technology will make all the difference for future growers.

“My husband Paul made a little machine to use on our farm, which means I can now do those seven kilos in an hour,” she said.

“And in the US they’ve developed machinery to process 100 kilograms in an hour, because otherwise it would be too expensive and unviable.”

The van Huizens started their elderberry orchard in Victoria seven years ago.(Suppled: Karen van Huizen)

Ms van Huizen — whose day job is in emergency management — says this makes elderberry a promising diversification option for Australian producers.

“We also run sheep so when lamb prices were down to around $3 a kilo last year, farmers like us had a lot to lose,” she said.

“However, if we grow a secondary or tertiary crop like elderberries, that’s a good source of supplementary income.”

But Ms van Huizen says educating farmers — as well as consumers — is key.

“We need a lot more research and investment, so we can tell growers what cultivars are suitable for what industries … whether it be food, cosmetics, alcohol et cetera,” she said.

“And our elderberry products can be used in smoothies, on ice-cream, as a salad dressing.

“It’s about being creative and showing people elderberries can be used in so many different ways.”

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Publish date : 2024-06-24 20:28:45

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Author : love-europe

Publish date : 2024-06-24 23:32:43

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