A native grass once harvested by Indigenous people, but these days more often overlooked as a roadside weed, could form the solution to restoring land exhausted by farming, researchers say.
- Kangaroo Grass is regularly found on roadsides and in paddocks being eaten by livestock
- The grass is resistant to prolonged drought and extreme changes in temperature
- The research project is looking at whether Kangaroo Grass could be produced on a mass scale by Australian farmers
As a teenager Dylan Male felt helpless as he watched his family struggle through the Millennium drought on their southern New South Wales farm.
“The sheep gathering around dams which had dwindled to no more than a mere puddle and all the crops withering away,” he said.
“As a kid I felt powerless to do anything, but as I grew up I soon realised I could contribute to overcoming the challenges facing our farmers.”
One of those solutions could lie with kangaroo grass, a native species found on roadsides and in paddocks, where it is eaten by livestock.
Once harvested by Indigenous groups, Mr Male said the grass was resistant to prolonged drought as well as extreme changes in temperature and rainfall.
“Many reasons have contributed to this spark in interest in the community, but most notably the greater recognition of Aboriginal food production systems prior to European arrival.”
Mr Male is doing his PhD at La Trobe University in Bendigo and is investigating the agronomy and ecology of Indigenous food plant species.
The project is a partnership with the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Clans Corporation, which has received a $1.82 million Federal Government grant to research the viability of growing kangaroo grass.
‘A new food crop’
Dja Dja Wurrung Project Manager Latarnie McDonald is a former agronomist who has helped Mr Male sow several test paddocks in central Victoria.
“Kangaroo Grass is fascinating, as it’s perennial,” Ms McDonald said.
“We’re going out into the field and sampling tussocks of kangaroo grass that are thought to be well over 50 years old, if not older, and when you think of Australian agriculture, you’d be hard pressed to find one grass that has been alive for over 50 or 100 years.”
The project will run over the next four years and Ms McDonald said the goal is to eventually see kangaroo grass become a regular food source that is grown on a commercial scale.
“The ultimate goal is that we build actually an agronomy package,” she said.
“So we can grow kangaroo grass on existing farms and contract grow that with other farmers and then produce lots of seed grain to restore grasslands that are degraded.”
The “ultimate goal”, Ms McDonald said, was to produce “a new food crop.”
The project team hoped the product could become a regular ingredient in foods like bread, cakes and biscuits.
“I really like the taste,” Ms McDonald said.
“Earlier research has found Kangaroo Grass has about 40 per cent more protein than your traditional used in bread.”
The Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Clans hoped that the grass could contribute to the healing of the land if it was produced on a large scale.
“Kangaroo grass forms a really dense tussock and its leaves bend outwards and protect the soil,” Ms McDonald said.
“It creates its own ecosystem.
“It helps to conserve more moisture and therefore you get a whole abundance of live that comes with that, like native insects and invertebrates.”