Sandalwood has been harvested from natural forests since the dawn of recorded history but it is only the last 25 years that it has been commercially grown in dedicated plantations. The Ord Valley in the Kimberley region of Western Australia has proven to be an ideal setting. It has good soils, plenty of sunshine and an abundance of water.
A hemi-parasite, sandalwood is a difficult tree to propagate and farm. A right balance has to be found with a combination of host trees, soil types, watering and nutrient requirements, a challenge Santanol has spent years perfecting.
Santanol has a comprehensive research and development program to optimise its production. At the inception of the plantations industry in Australia, seeds were essentially collected from the wild. Trees from these early plantations with the right potential were identified and validated using a wide range of leading edge techniques. Today, growth rates, oil content and form are all considered as part of our selection process. Stringent quality tests ensure that the trees chosen for future development are of premium quality. Tree selection is an ongoing part of the process.
As part of the research program, the team at Santanol has developed a number of proprietary clonal propagation techniques to capture material from the best performing trees and replicate them for deployment in the field – this does not involve any artificial manipulation of the genome; no GMO technology is used. Santanol has “fingerprinted” the best of its trees, to ensure sufficient genetic diversity for a healthy estate, while developing tools to monitor and refine selections over time.
But this is only part of the story. Premium sandalwood is a highly sought after commodity on the world stage. The oil derived from the heartwood of the tree is the real prize – and it forms only with the right mix of genetics and environmental factors. The oil is the tree’s defence mechanism against pests, disease and stress which helps explain many of the medicinal properties for which it has been used over the centuries.
Santanol is also conducting research with leading laboratories in Europe to develop health and cosmetic applications for its oil.
Santanol now has a substantial and enduring supply of sandalwood (Santalum album) trees and its derivative products.