The world’s biggest producer of Indian sandalwood is on track to complete its largest commercial harvest on record in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.
- Quintis has produced its largest harvest on record this year and is set to double production again in 2022
- Sandalwod is finding new interest from the wellness industry, Chinese medicine market as well as perfumes.
- Next year the sandalwood giant will plant its first trees in the Ord since recapitalising three years ago
By the end of the month, Quintis will have harvested 256 hectares of the exotic timber in the Ord Irrigation Scheme, approximately 3,200 kilometres north of Perth.
The sandalwood Santalum album is highly prized for its aromatic wood and oil but an unscrupulous black-market trade has decimated wild reserves in India.
Quintis CEO Richard Henfrey said the harvest milestone was the culmination of more than two decades of hard work to establish a sustainable source of Indian sandalwood in northern Australia.
“There’s great interest in being able to source this product in the volumes that we can supply that’s ethical, legally grown and that’s traceable,” he said.
“We expect the yield per hectare and the amount of the kilos of heartwood to go up significantly over the next two years.”
A record-breaking harvest
The 2021 harvest included trees from a Managed Investment Scheme which will go to tender, as well as trees owned by Quintis.
From its Packsaddle plantation, the logs are trucked to the nearby Kununurra processing facility, where the sweet scent of sandalwood wafts through the air as it is dried, graded and fed through grinding equipment.
Following the tender process, much of the high-quality timber purchased by Quintis will be trucked more than 3,500 kilometres south to the company’s facility at Mount Romance near Albany, which is home to the world’s largest sandalwood oil distillery.
Often described as “liquid gold”, nearly half of all perfumes contain sandalwood oil, which has been fetching as much as $300,000 a tonne on the global market in recent years.
Mr Henfrey said while the fragrance industry had suffered during the coronavirus pandemic, there was growing demand for their product for traditional Chinese medicines and religious handicrafts.
Earlier this year Quintis signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s largest manufacturer of traditional medicines, Lanzhou Foci Pharmaceuticals, a state-owned company listed on the ShenZhen Stock Exchange.
Growth in the wellness industry
Mr Henfrey, who spent more than a decade with vitamin company Blackmores, said he believed Quintis would continue to expand its presence across the global “wellness” industry.
“We have some markets that are very mature like the fine fragrance market and aromatherapy [but] we do see, in terms of growth, the opportunity for our oil and potentially powders to go into cosmetics and more Western medicine,” he said.
“But we’ve got to tell that story to the cosmetics industry and to the brands who are going to ultimately be putting it in their products.”
A new chapter for Quintis
Quintis manages more than 12,000 hectares of plantations across Northern Australia and employs more than 150 staff in its forestry operations in WA, the Northern Territory and Queensland.
The company has established key markets all over the world including Australia, China, Europe, India, Korea, Japan and the USA.
Since the first harvest in 2013, more than 500 hectares of Indian sandalwood has been harvested in the Ord Valley and that number was set to grow significantly as they worked towards expanding harvest operations over the next five years.
In October 2018 it recapitalised as a private company, resumed harvest operations and completed a product rebrand and leadership shuffle, all while defending multiple lawsuits and the attempted takeover of several Quintis-managed sandalwood plantations led by the company’s founder and former boss Frank Wilson.
Meanwhile, Mr Wilson was fighting civil prosecution by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in the Federal Court this week, over insider trading allegations made following his time as a director of Quintis — a claim he strongly denied.
But despite a turbulent past, the company now has its eye firmly set on the future.
Creating a sustainable future
Eighteen months into the top job at Quintis, Mr Henfrey is convinced the Indian Sandalwood industry will continue to be an important crop across northern Australia.
“There have been challenges in the past but I think we’ve overcome those and we’re really focused on getting the product out into the market,” he said.
“The idea here is to run a sustainable-sized estate that gives us the produce that we need to serve a growing and high-value global market.
“We’ve got some great momentum in the market at the moment, so I’m probably feeling more positive than at any other time in my short 18 months.”
Major competitor Santanol, owned by global forestry giant Mercer International, was also expected to produce up to 10,000 kg of Indian sandalwood oil this year, after completing its own record harvest in the Ord in 2020.
Both companies were investigating new ways to make forestry in the region more sustainable, including the creation of a biochar product made from leftover biomass material to reduce greenhouse emissions and improve soil health.
Mature trees absorb 21 kilograms of carbon dioxide per annum; Quintis has estimated their trees remove over 115,000 tonnes of CO2 from the earth’s atmosphere each year.