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It is estimated that the annual global requirement for protein in 2050 will be almost double our annual consumption today. We'll need more animal, plant and novel protein sources to help meet this booming global population and the changing dietary patterns of the modern health- and welfare-conscious consumer.

CSIRO economic analysis estimates the domestic and export opportunity for complementary proteins could reach $4.1 billion and $2.5 billion respectively by 2030.

Australia is a major and efficient grower of protein-based crops such as cereals, pulses and legumes. However, our manufacturing capability in plant-based protein foods is still fledgling and by far most of the plant-based protein products and ingredients consumed here are imported.

If Australia doesn't make the most of this huge opportunity by building our own new plant protein industries, we'll need to continue importing these products from overseas manufacturers into the future.

Growing new protein crop supply chains

Hemp is being trialled in North Queensland as a potential high value protein ingredient, manufacturing opportunity and new supply chain

Queensland is already Australia's biggest cattle producer and now the booming demand for plant-based protein creates additional opportunities.

With our partners, we've scoped the potential for a plant-based protein supply chain in North Queensland.

We screened 13 legumes and 7 oilseeds for their protein and oilseed content, economic value and potential suitability for growing in the tropics of North Queensland. We then narrowed this down to five focus crops: hemp and sunflower, and the legumes mungbean, soybean and chickpea.

The main crop in the area is sugarcane, however many growers are looking to diversify. The Queensland Department of Primary Industries is trialling varieties of an emerging crop, industrial hemp, near Townsville as a possible rotation crop.

Building new plant protein industries

We scoped not just growing new legume and oilseed crops in the area. We also looked at transforming these crops into high value ingredients that meet consumer demand using a local purpose-built Industry 4.0 smart manufacturing hub. Circular economy approaches, in other words making use of all parts of the crop, are an important goal.

We've scoped the equipment, suppliers, regulations and existing CSIRO technologies required for protein enrichment and oil refining of the selected crops. The hub would transform the new local crops into specialty plant protein ingredients for use in foods like gluten free baked goods, snacks, mince mixes, pasta, frozen desserts, beverages, and complementary dairy, fish, meat products and specialty oils. There are also non-food opportunities in pet foods, aquaculture and livestock feed.

A new supply chain case study: Wandarra

Wandarra was established in November 2020 to meet the fast-growing demand for hemp and other broadacre protein ingredients and specialty oils in Australia and globally. Based in Townsville, they aim to become a plant-based protein smart manufacturing leader in North Queensland supplying the food and beverage, aquaculture and petfood sectors. This work formerly took place under Wandarra's sister entity, Full Harvest Solutions.

CSIRO's Pablo Juliano (L), and Wandarra's Steve Tiley at a hemp trial in North Queensland

The company are a case study of the proposed hub. Together we scoped the supply chain of them as suppliers in North Queensland of legume and oilseed protein crops, their processing requirements, the potential products their crops could make, and the potential customers. This activity was part of CSIRO's Northern Agriculture Futures initiative.

Report and acknowledgements

Read the full plant protein processing hub report.

CSIRO's Future Protein Mission supported this project, as did our Northern Agriculture Futures project. The project was part funded by the CSIRO Kick-Start Program. Kick-Start is an initiative for innovative Australian start-ups and small SMEs, providing funding support and access to CSIRO’s research expertise and capabilities to help grow and develop their business.

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