The plant responsible for tequila could have endless possibilities in Australia, according to an agronomist behind the country’s largest planned commercial agave farm.

More than 1 million plants are currently being planted on a farm south of Bowen, in north Queensland, to supply a Melbourne-based distillery to make agave spirit.

Agronomist Chris Monsour is working with a team to grow the agave to be distilled in three to four years’ time, but you won’t see it marketed as tequila.

Much like Champagne in France, the name tequila is restricted to a region of Mexico.

Mr Monsour said the spiky plant had unlimited possibilities in Australia beyond alcohol.

“[The] ethanol can be used for fuels, and the biomass that’s left over once the ethanol has been extracted can be used to make electricity,” he said.

“The plant itself could be used as cattle feed, [and] can be used to make molasses.”

Four bottles of Tequila on a shelf at a bottle shop.
The plant used to make tequila has a number of other uses.(ABC News: Luke Royes)

Sweet as sugar

About 95 per cent of Australia’s sugar is grown in coastal Queensland, in high-rainfall zones.

Sugarcane takes a year to reach maturity and is harvested and milled over a six-month period.

For agave, it takes four years for the plant to reach optimal sugar content but then can be harvested at any time of the year.

“If you compare [agave] to sugarcane, it’s equal to, or may be superior in terms of both sugar content, through yield and biomass,” Mr Monsour said.

While Mr Monsour did not believe agave would replace sugarcane, he hoped some canegrowers could diversify and include agave on less desirable country.

“It doesn’t need to displace things like vegetables or sugarcane,” Mr Monsour said.

“This is something that has potential to be used in inland areas, in areas prone to drought.”

‘The new era of energy and sugar’

AusAgave’s Don Chambers has been working in the industry for the past 15 years, and is aiming to establish plant propagation and mechanisation to build Australian production.

He said that while agave did not have a good reputation, as a spiky desert plant it did have potential for green energy.

“Most people don’t associate that with the new era of energy and sugar,” Mr Chambers said.

“The biofuels industry has not been able to gain traction here because there’s insufficient biomass to convert to biofuels.

“And I guess that’s the area we’re targeting to have it growing.”

Mr Chambers said that while the agave industry had been slow to take off, interest was growing.

“Because of climate changes, temperature changes, [interest is in] looking at a crop that will be able to withstand these changes,” he said.

“[And] it’s got a good spirit there as well, for those cold nights.”

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