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Australian Grain Export branches out with Integra Foods

Liz Wells, February 29, 2024
AGE directors Tyson Hewett and Tom Reddecliffe with Chris O'Bryan on site at Dublin.

AGE directors Tyson Hewett and Tom Reddecliffe and projects manager Chris O’Bryan inspect faba beans running through AGE’s recently installed equipment at its Dublin site.

SOUTH Australian business Australian Grain Export is set to open its next chapter in coming months with the launch of protein-powder production.

Co-located with the AGE’s bulk-storage, container-packing and pulse-processing facilities at Dublin on the Adelaide Plains, the new segment will operate under the banner of Integra Foods.

It aims to produce 5000 tonnes of protein concentrates and 10,000t of starch concentrates per annum from faba beans.

With commissioning underway, Integra Foods is now looking for customers for its protein and starch concentrates in the human-consumption, pet food and animal feed markets.

Pulses here to stay

Since the early 1990s, SA’s annual faba bean production has risen from around 30,000t to a record 300,000t in 2022-23, to make the state one of the world’s major faba bean growers and exporters.

After a fitful start up to the early 2000s, SA has also become a major grower and exporter of lentils, with a record 900,000t harvested in 2022-23.

Both crops have driven the growth of AGE since it began in 1996 as a container-packing business at Maitland on SA’s Yorke Peninsula.

“It was about creating an option for the farmer at a time when lentils were taking off as a crop to grow in rotation with cereals,” AGE director Tyson Hewett said.

The same uptrend was seen east of the border, prompting AGE to buy the Wimmera Grain Company container-packing site at Rupanyup in Victoria in 2012.

The need for increased capacity closer to Port Adelaide saw AGE open its Dublin site in November 2016, when a bumper harvest saw the new site quickly move into bulk handling as well as container packing.

“It means we can now store 180,000t in bunkers and 40,000t under tin,” Mr Hewett said.

It allows the site to receive four segregations of lentils and three of faba beans, plus wheat and barley, including malting grades for out-turn to SA brewer Coopers.

Mr Hewett said the move into protein-powder production has been the logical step for the business now that AGE and other bulk-handlers on the Adelaide Plains have a combined capacity to handle even the biggest harvests, and on-farm storage capacity builds.

“We’ve gone into value-adding because of this trend we’re seeing towards farmers storing more on farm.

“Most are getting to the capacity where they can store 50-70 percent of their pulse crops.”

Expansion well advanced

Under the guidance of projects and operations manager Chris O’Bryan, AGE last year moved into pulse processing to diversify its income built on bulk handling, container packing, and trading.

An SA Government COVID-recovery grant in 2021 helped to get the diversification moving and has contributed to the $20M build and fit-out of the processing shed which turned its first dollars last year.

Integra Foods has this month received a $500,000 SA Government grant to help fund research and development into the application of faba protein and starch concentrates in the beverage, fortified food, pet food and feed supplement markets.

The pulse processing facility will now expand beyond its existing cleaning, sizing, splitting and bagging capabilities, which are predominantly focused on lentils, field peas and faba beans, and into milling and dry fractionation to produce faba flours and faba protein and starch concentrates.

Container packing is a core function of the AGE business and is carried out at its Dublin site (pictured) and also its site at Rupanyup in Victoria.

The processing facility housing the equipment measures 100m by 30m and has added another 15 or so staff to the core team of around 12 people which looks after receivals and out-turn in containers and tippers.

When bunkers are filling, harvest adds another 20 to that.

The fit-out of the facility required input from offshore speciality equipment technicians.

“We needed to find accommodation for them, so we put cabins in on site.

“Now that the install has finished, they’re serving an important new purpose as accommodation for harvest casuals arriving from interstate and abroad.”

New path for beans

Integra Foods will be SA’s first volume producer of protein and starch concentrates from pulses.

AGE and Integra Foods director Tom Reddecliffe said the decision to use faba beans is related to the strong establishment of the crop in SA farming systems, its competitive pricing in relation to other pulses, and its adaptability to different uses.

“What we know so far is that a lot of uses are possible…in everything from muesli bars to aquaculture.”

Faba beans are already being graded and bagged for export at AGE’s Dublin facility.

AGE’s Dublin site regularly receives faba beans from as far afield as Kaniva in Victoria’s Wimmera district, Buckleboo on the Upper Eyre Peninsula, and SA’s South East, as well as closer in on the Yorke Peninsula, and the Lower and Mid North.

Mr Reddecliffe said discussions with food and ingredients manufacturers and the stockfeed and pet food sectors will advance when the first batches of protein and starch concentrates are bagged in the coming months.

“We can’t go to the market with a prototype product until we know exactly what its characteristics are going to be and how that can work for potential customers.”

The protein level in the powder is expected to measure 65pc, and AGE is pursuing marketing opportunities independently as well as working with the South Australian Research and Development Institute to develop product for the pulse-protein market.

 

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