This is the fourth in a series of posts by Jordan River (of The Fragrant Man website) about the myths and legends of sandalwood, as well as day by day coverage of the 2013 Santalum albumsandalwood harvest currently taking place in Australia. There are links to the previous posts at the foot of the article.
There are 7,600 hectares of Santalum album sandalwood trees planted in North Australia. The first 144 hectares of Australian album (Santalum album sandalwood grown in Australia) will be harvested over the next year. September 2013 saw the beginning of the harvest. Tropical Forestry Services (TFS) harvested 8 hectares before the wet season, and will complete the remaining 136 hectares before June 30 2014.
Santalum album sandalwood trees, growing in Kununurra, North Australia.
Sandalwood trees growing at TFS Kingston Rest plantation, North Australia.
These trees were planted in 1999. Harvest expectations have been somewhat diminished as this particular section of the plantation only had a 35% survival rate. Scientific tweaking of the growing process sees substantial increases in survival rate expectations across the balance of the plantations, with recent plantings (2009 – 2013) achieving average survival rates of 95%. Spike disease which kills the plants in India is not found in Australia.
Santalum album is a hemi-parasite which requires 3 host plants to survive.
Way back in 2006 the following forecast was made by the Australian government with an oil yield estimate of 3%. This is slightly less than from a 50-year-old Santalum album tree in India however the Australian government forecast yield is based on harvesting 15-20 year old trees. TFS (Tropical Forestry Services) has fine-tuned the entire process since then and is tracking at a 3.7% oil yield from the current harvest of 14 to 15-year-old trees planted from 1999. They are also a year ahead of the initial harvest date as forecast by the government.
2006 independent forecast via Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation
Specialized equipment is used for the harvest. The tree feller is from Sweden.
Tree feller from Sweden.
Because the roots also contain sandalwood oil there is another specialized machine, this time from Italy, which is used to extract the stumps to maximize the oil yield with great efficiency.
Stump Extractor from Italy
Stump Extractor from Italy
Recoverable oil percentage in the heartwood varies anywhere from 2% to 7%. The expected sandalwood oil yield from this harvest is 3.70%. We will take a look at the distillation process in a couple of days. Tomorrow we will look at grading, chipping and shipping.