Growing Japanese Green Tea in Australia

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Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 8.33.52 AMIt is not unusual for a farmer to be on the lookout for a new and profitable crop to add to his rotation. Diversification protects the long-term survival of the farm through weather woes, crop surpluses and growing failures. But Australian farmer William Leckey has chosen an unusual option for adding variety to his farm — growing Japanese-style green tea.

Leckey operates an 890 acre farm in the Acheron Valley, northeast of Melbourne, in northeast Victoria. For the past 14 years, he has dedicated 30 acres (12 hectares) of land to growing Camellia sinensis. The idea was brought to him when a group of Japanese tea producers, including those representing Japanese green tea giant, Ito En, visited the region to encourage farmers to consider adding green tea to their production mix. While other areas had been considered, such as China and New Zealand, Victoria held particular promise. There simply wasn’t enough agricultural space in Japan to grow the volume of green tea needed. The region around Heatherly seemed a viable option as it shares a latitude and climate with the famous Japanese tea growing region in Shizuoka Prefecture. Lackey and his wife Georgie began with 160,000 seedlings.

WTN150216_ART_TwoRiversLackeyFamilyGreen tea was completely new to Leckey. They had been growing grain and grazing sheep previously. He had never been to Japan and admits that he knew very little about green tea but was intrigued. How times change. Fourteen years later he is the Australian Green Tea Growers Association’s president and he is growing three varieties of Japanese tea: sayamakaori, yabukita, and okuhikaori.

The tea he grows is processed in Wangaratta at Ito En’s plant in the Japanese style, being steamed, rolled and dried. (More than 1,350 tons of tea leaves from eleven farms are now processed at this factory annually, yielding more than 310 tons of tea.) Most of the tea goes to Japan, but a small amount is now sold in Australia under the Two Rivers Green Tea label.

Source: Good Food, Yarra Valley & Ranges, and The Producers