Goondiwindi-based Algae Pharm has scored a big win for one of Australia’s emerging agricultural industries: algae farming.
Part of the family-owned farming and grain processing Woods Group, Algae Pharm recently received SGS Australia food grade certification for its marine algae-based products.
SGS Australia is one of the world’s leading testing, inspection and certification companies.
According to Algae Pharm Business Development Manager Steve Strutt, the company believes the food grade certification is a first for the industry in Australia.
“This certification is extremely important. It sets us up as a company to deliver a sustainable plant-based Omega-3 to domestic and export food manufacturers,” Steve said.
“Without the certification, we would not be able to sell our product into the food market.”
Why the excitement? Because marine algae are a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is in demand as an additive in human food and health products as well as in animal feed.
This is because Omega-3 has a number of well documented health benefits, including improving heart health and reducing inflammation in the body.
The global Omega-3 market was valued at over US$2.62 billion in 2023.
It has been a long, hard slog for the company to get to the stage where it is now.
It all started in 2017. Establishing a land-based marine algae farm at Goondiwindi, 400 kilometres from the ocean, was the vision of Tom Woods who saw an opportunity to extend the family’s business operations beyond grain production, grain and pulse processing, stockfeed manufacturing, and transport and logistics.
Tom and the Woods Family had worked with Professor Peer Schenk from the University of Queensland who had been researching the opportunity to use microalgae grown in small ponds as a source of Omega-3 for human consumption and as protein source for stockfeed.
Steve said the original vision was to deliver a sustainable Omega-3 product for nutrition that does not impact on fish stocks and oceans.
The company received $579,000 in Advance Queensland funding in 2017 to develop an algae farm on which new technology would be trialled for the extraction of Omega-3 oil from algae.
By 2019, the company had completed construction of their Algae Pharm pilot scale facility on a 10-acre site with the ability to grow to 10 open ponds in Goondiwindi.
“We hit upon the Nannochloropsis Oculata strain of algae as what we were looking for. The algae traditionally grows in the ocean, but we were able to grow it using bore water mixed with salt,” Steve said.
“To our knowledge, it is the only source of Omega-3 essential fatty acid other than fish. Fish consume this algae in the ocean. So we are delivering Omega-3 from the same source.
“From our Nannochloropsis strain, we produce a plant-based Omega-3 that delivers a high-value, essential ingredient for animal and human nutrition that helps with inflammatory diseases, cardiovascular health, and cholesterol.”
Steve said a big plus with algae was that it was fast-growing.
“We can harvest every day, rather than just a few times year.
“In addition, algae is also an environmentally sustainable crop that utilises four key natural resources: non-arable land, non-portable water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight.
“It doesn’t take up a lot of land. It’s not resource intense. And yet, it produces, as we found, the potential for a financially lucrative crop.”
He said as Nannochloropsis Oculata is a winter crop, they have now added spirulina as a summer crop.
“Since receiving SGS Australia certification, our stocks have been snapped up. We are now able to engage with customers and enter into commercial agreements. And as our volumes grow, we will require additional staff.
“The project clearly demonstrates how a regional facility can deliver solutions for sustainable food ingredients.”
Steve said the 2017 Advance Queensland funding was critical – allowing construction of the farm to proceed as well as providing a big boost in confidence to support what was a unique concept.
Read more of Queensland’s innovation success stories.