Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a perennial that grows to 2 metres or more, and at least 50cm across. The leaf has a strong anise scent and flavour, and the buttery yellow flowers appear in summer and autumn. The more common green fennel is a noxious weed in some regions so it should not be planted. The majority of fennel is produced for the fresh markets present in Australia.
This vegetable is a member of the Apiaceae plant family and is native to the shores of the Mediterranean. Most of Australia’s production occurs in Tasmania where it is cultivated as a perennial crop. The major production issues faced by growers of fennel are root diseases, however, compared with other essential oil crops fennel can be quite robust and have quite a long productive life. The growing of fennel for the production of essential oil is done so under contract with a buyer/processor of the crop, as the market for fennel oil is very small and specialised. The major competition for Australian-produced fennel oil is essential oil produced from star anise (Illicium verum) in China and Vietnam.
Fennel is ready for harvest from late February to mid-May. It can be forage harvested or direct headed using conventional grain harvesting equipment. The timing of harvest will be determined by the maturity and moisture content of the umbels (seed heads). Forage-harvested crops can be harvested earlier than direct-headed crops, which require lower moisture content for successful seed removal from the umbel. Growers may harvest with both types of machinery to spread out the harvest period and even out the supply of herbage to the distillery.
This vegetable is grown under contract to a major producer based in Tasmania. Potential entrants to the fennel oil industry are advised to carefully research and understand the production chain, and comprehensively investigate new market opportunities and niches. The existing industry is tightly integrated, and product quality and security of supply for all fennel oil produced in Australia are managed through contractual arrangements between the landholder on whose farm the crop grows and the processor and marketer of the final product.
Fennel is grown all across Australia. However, at present, the major producing state is the Weribee region in Victoria.
Article by: Hari Yellina