Jojoba

25.05.17

Jojoba, is a small, hardy shrub. Jojoba is the only plant to store wax, not oil, in its seeds, and it is the wax from the plant that is used by humans for many purposes. The liquid wax is usually referred to as jojoba oil. Most Australian growers market the product as ‘golden jojoba’, not oil, to differentiate it from the product of oil seed crops, such as sweet almond oil.

Overview

Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis), pronounced “ho ho ba”, is the only species of the family SimmondsiaceaeEndemic to the desert regions of Arizona and New Mexico in North America, the small hardy shrub is a xerophyte (a species of plant adapted to a dry habitat). It grows up to five metres high, and can live for 30 to 100 years. It is dioecious, i.e. has separate male and female plants, and fertilisation occurs by the wind blowing pollen from bushes with male flowers to bushes with female flowers.

Jojoba has small oval grey-green leaves and small primitive-looking flowers that have no petals and appear on female shrubs in spring. After pollination the flowers form green seed pods containing seeds. The pods mature and dry on the bush, and in summer split and the seeds, which resemble roasted coffee beans, fall to the ground. The seeds, also referred to as ‘beans’ or ‘nuts’, are 12 millimetres long, hard and dark brown in colour.

It is the only plant to store wax, not oil, in its seeds, and it is the wax from the plant that is used by humans for many purposes. The liquid wax is usually referred to as jojoba oil and most Australian growers market the product as ‘golden jojoba’, not oil, to differentiate it from the product of oil seed crops, such as sweet almond oil. People indigenous to jojoba’s place of origin used the wax as a hair and skin conditioner, and to treat skin conditions; as well as making tea from the leaves.

Jojoba oil came to prominence on the world cosmetic market in the 1970s, replacing sperm whale oil, which was no longer considered ethical. The oil has many properties, including moisturising ability that makes it an ideal ingredient in cosmetic and skin-care products. Additionally, the oil is very stable and gives products a long shelf life.

The CSIRO introduced jojoba to Australia in 1978 and, encouraged by tax incentives, many orchards were established but failed to grow jojoba profitably — part of the problem was that many of the plants, grown from seed, were unproductive males – the oil is extracted from the seeds of the female plant. The Australian industry re-established in the late 1990s, with the release of improved varieties for Australian conditions and the formation of the Australian Jojoba Industry Association.

In addition, growers agreed to a voluntary levy on plants and seed production to help establish a fund for research and development and industry promotion. An initial period of enthusiasm within the industry coincided with high world prices for jojoba but was followed by a fall in prices due to a large government-sponsored jojoba project in Argentina flooding the world market. In the 2010s, the industry was considered to be in a recovery phase, with plantations withstanding the millennium drought and providing good supplementary income to farmers whose traditional crops suffered.

The Australian Jojoba Industry Association is the industry body for jojoba producers.

Facts and figures

  • Jojoba is widely used in the international cosmetics industry, and can be used as a substitute for a wide range of oils and wax
  • Resistant to drought and salinity, jojoba is ideally suited to arid inland conditions
  • Cultivars developed for temperate rather than arid regions have increased potential production areas in Australia
  • Jojoba is a perennial plant and a plantation can take 3–5 years before the first harvest is possible and 8–10 years before full production is reached

Production status

The key production regions for jojoba in Australia are the central western plains of New South Wales and southern Queensland.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Jojoba oil can be used as a substitute for wax and for animal, mineral, synthetic and plant oils. Jojoba is not a ‘true’ oil but a vegetable wax ester, with similar molecular structure to human skin sebum. It is easily refined from its golden colour, to become odourless and colourless, making it a valued ingredient in the production of cosmetics and medicinal products. Other benefits of this high-grade, cold-pressed ‘oil’ are its non-toxic, non-allergenic and non-greasy qualities.

Jojoba is used in numerous products including moisturisers, first aid creams and lotions, sun screen, soap, make-up, hair conditioner, and oils for bath, massage and aromatherapy.

Jojoba oil is traded as either ‘natural’, ‘partially refined’ or ‘highly refined’, according to its end use. There is potential to use the last portion of the second pressing as ‘technical grade’ oil, for industrial applications to produce biodegradable lubricants, as a biodiesel fuel and radiator stop-leak products, but this rarely occurs.

The by-product after extracting oil from the seed is called jojoba meal, and may be used as a substitute for almond meal in personal care products.

Depending on soil type and irrigation systems, jojoba plantations have the potential to remove recharge water from watertables, reducing the risk of soil salinity on both dryland and irrigated farms.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Jojoba has been grown in the dry inland regions of five states of Australia. The key production regions for jojoba were the central western plains of New South Wales (around Hillston, Forbes and Yenda) and southern Queensland (around Inglewood). A true desert plant, jojoba does well in these areas with a hot dry climate and sandy, well-drained soils.

Soil type

Soil requirements for jojoba are more specific than climatic requirements. Jojoba is suited to deep gravelly, loamy and sandy soils, including mallee soils and calcareous soils. Soils that have a sharp texture contrast between topsoil and subsoil are less suitable.

Jojoba requires soils that are well drained and have a soil pH between 7 and 9. Jojoba has a high tolerance for salt, provided drainage is good. It tolerates low soil fertility, aided by an extensive root system that is able to exploit a large volume of soil.

Climate

Tolerant to drought and hot arid conditions, jojoba’s optimum annual rainfall is 500–600mm, however plantations in lower rainfall areas can be supplemented with irrigation. Good cropping has been achieved with rainfall of 420mm per year and strategic summer irrigation. The risk of fungal attack on leaves increases in wet winters in areas exceeding 600mm annual rainfall.

The optimum growth temperature for jojoba is 19–25°C and it is sensitive to frosts below 5°C, which can damage flowers and the ends of young branches. Late frosts (after July) cause additional damage, as they prevent any second flowering that may occur after early frosts. Late frost may be a problem at flowering time in plantations established at altitudes higher than 350m.

Varieties developed for Australian conditions are more productive and better suited to temperate, winter dominant rainfall areas of Australia than introduced varieties.

Varieties

The original jojoba plant stock Simmondsia chinensis came to Australia from North America. A joint research program, undertaken by CSIRO and New South Wales Department of Agriculture in the late 1970s and 1980s, developed jojoba varieties to suit commercial farming in the dry inland regions of Australia. Five varieties of the male and female plants were selected from this program — three female varieties – Barindji, Wadi Wadi, and Waradgery, and two male varieties – Dadi Dadi and Guyambul.

Jojoba is a cross-fertilised plant, therefore a plantation will need both male and female varieties. A ratio of about 1:20 male to female plants is recommended to ensure successful cross-fertilisation.

Planting and crop management

Jojoba plantations should be established by planting cloned seedlings, as plants established from seed can be highly variable. Mounding of the planting rows may be beneficial by helping to reduce seasonal waterlogging if drainage is poor.

Planting can take place in spring or autumn. Spring planting should occur as soon as the soil temperature rises above 20°C at a depth of 10cm, giving the seedlings maximum growing time before the onset of winter. Planting can also occur during autumn from late February until early March, or earlier, if careful attention is paid to watering during establishment. Seedlings can be placed into prepared rows using a tree planting machine or be planted by hand. Tree guards placed around the young plants will assist with weed control and irrigation, and protect against rabbit damage.

The space between planting rows must accommodate machinery for mowing, pruning and harvesting; and while row widths of at least 5m are recommended, practice has shown that 6–7m is preferable. Plants should be spaced 1.6–2m apart along the rows; and male to female plantings should be in a ratio of at least 1:20, to ensure successful cross-fertilisation. Experience in Australia suggests male plants are less hardy than females and about 20% will need replanting after 15–20 years.

The hardy nature of jojoba ensures that high inputs of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides are not necessary for successful cultivation. However, leaf tissue and soil tests should be conducted to ensure nutrition is balanced.

Pruning to keep the base of the plants clear for easier harvesting and weed control starts from 12 to 18 months. As the plants grow, they are maintained as a hedge-row.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

The establishment phase for jojoba is about three years, and during this time, spraying of the plantation is important to reduce weed competition. Weeds compete with young plants for nutrients and moisture. Weed control is also important once the plantation is established and some herbicides can be used with ‘off-label permits’.

There are few insect pests or diseases that affect jojoba; the major pests are birds (such as galahs and cockatoos), rabbits and rodents. Grazing cattle can also severely damage or kill jojoba plants. Fencing and individual plant guards are the most effective ways to combat these challenges.

Minor damage is caused by the Rutherglen bug, aphids and Heliothis caterpillars but pesticides are generally not used on jojoba plants in Australia (or the USA) as natural predators can control any outbreaks.

A major disease of jojoba is collar rot, caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum, that results in stem and root decay. Control of the disease is through prevention by ensuring that planting stock is not infected, as well as reducing stresses to the plantation, such as moisture stress and damage by machinery. Research into the disease has suggested that some varieties are more susceptible than others.

Another fungal disease, black scab (Elsinoe sp.) can also be a problem for jojoba in wet years or years of high humidity, and particularly in areas with high summer rainfall. The disease causes lesions on the leaf, calyx and young stems, and may have an impact of the opening of the flowers. It can be controlled by common horticultural fungicide sprays, such as mancozeb.

Infrastructure Requirements

Cultivation of jojoba requires standard equipment for orchard maintenance such as:

  • tractor
  • mower or slasher
  • sprayer
  • pruning equipment
  • irrigation system — to ensure good productivity
  • fencing to exclude stock and wild animals
  • tree guards to protect seedlings from rabbits
  • if mechanical harvesting, a sweeper harvester
  • gravity table
  • optional, washing facilities to clean the seed
  • storage, if seed is to be accumulated before pressing
  • if processing on farm, cold-press equipment
  • drums for storage and transport of oil.

Harvesting & Processing

A well-managed plantation, with appropriately selected varieties planted at 1250 plants/ha will yield about 0.5t of seed/ha after 10–11 years under rain fed conditions, and up to 1.0t/ha if irrigated. Production should commence 3–5 years after planting and reach full levels about 8–10 years after planting. Overseas varieties are reportedly yielding up to 3.0t/ha

After flowering in early spring, pods form on the female plants, in which the seed develops and matures. When the seed is fully mature and dry, the pod splits open and the seed falls to the ground in late summer and autumn. In very few instances, the jojoba pod may not split open readily and tree shakers are required to dislodge the seed.

The seed on the ground is collected using sweeper harvesters, which are specially-developed harvesters equipped with rotating brooms. Alternatively, modified almond harvesters may be used. Seed cannot be harvested from the shrub as it would not be fully ripe and so would be unsuitable for cold-pressing due to moisture levels.

Stones, soil and organic matter are separated from the seed by winnowing and passing over a gravity table. Some producers wash the seed to remove any residual soil after winnowing, using an industrial washing machine.

The seed comprises up to 55% oil, of which 40–45% is extracted by cold-pressing. The first pressing produces 80–90% of the oil, used for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, while the second pressing (or solvent extracted) oil can be used for lubrication or chemical applications. Once pressed, the oil is filtered (‘polished’) and may be bleached before storing in sealed drums until required, or sold. Growers can purchase their own presses, or engage contract processors.

Markets & Marketing

Major jojoba producing countries include the United States of America, Mexico, Israel, Chile and Argentina. World demand for jojoba oil has increased since the 1990s, while consumption in Australia has fluctuated over time and supplies have relied on both domestic and imported product.

Nearly all Australian jojoba growers, from five states, were members of a grower-owned company. The company bought oil directly from the grower and sold bulk and packaged product, under a single brand, direct to the public, in Australia and overseas. The company structure enables Australian growers to produce and market a product of consistent supply and quality.

The company provides standards for production and centralised processing so that its jojoba products are marketed with the claims that they are produced without the use of insecticides, derived from non-transgenic plants and not tested on animals. The liquid wax from jojoba seed, usually referred to as jojoba oil, is marketed by the grower-owned company as ‘golden jojoba’ to differentiate it from products of oil seed crops, such as sweet almond oil.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

Jojoba plantings require a sizeable investment at the development stage, which is followed by a lengthy maturation period of 3–5 years before first harvest and 8–10 years until full production. This presents a commercial risk in terms of the upfront investment required, the time investment to establish the orchard and the length of time to full production. The slow growing nature of jojoba seedlings also means that weed control and protection from grazing animals and frosts are the largest production challenges faced while the seedlings mature.

Collar rot, a serious disease caused by Fusarium oxysporum, is thought to be transferred between plantations on cuttings, so it is critical to ensure that clean healthy planting stock is used for establishing new plantations. The jojoba industry advocates that any future breeding projects should aim to incorporate a level of resistance to Fusarium.

The disease black scab (Elsinoe sp.) can be a problem for jojoba in wet years or years of high humidity, and particularly in areas with high summer rainfall. Growers in these regions must be prepared to apply fungicide in order to protect plants and prevent loss of production.

The markets for jojoba are volatile being subject to consumer demand and influenced by world stocks, which are often produced much more cheaply than Australian product. Jojoba growers also face uncertainty as there are no long-term contracts available for the supply of their product.

Regulatory considerations

The regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements and the loading/unloading of harvested product), also apply to jojoba production operations. If seed is being processed on farm, local government should be consulted to ensure that prospective facilities and operations meet local planning and environmental regulations.

Before buying new land to plant orchards, a thorough investigation of the land’s suitability for a horticultural enterprise and its cropping or land use history should be undertaken. This may include identifying a history of chemical contamination (and residue levels) as some export licences may be withheld on products grown on land where chemical residues exist.

Potential disease risks should also be investigated. Some disease pathogens can survive in the soil for many years, so information about previous disease outbreaks will assist determining which trees are suitable for planting. This information can generally be obtained from the relevant state planning authority. Growers are also responsible for regularly inspecting their orchards for notifiable pests and diseases and reporting any incidence to the relevant state agriculture department.

When planting new orchards and establishing additional on-farm infrastructure or access roads, liaison with the state government agencies responsible for planning, native vegetation laws and water licences will be necessary. Some land use applications will also need to be considered by the relevant local government authority. Land ownership in itself does not provide owners the right to clear native vegetation for orchard establishment, therefore an approval or a licence to clear land will be required from the relevant state department of agriculture, environment or planning. Failure to have the relevant approvals may result in prosecution.

If producers choose to label and market their own product, they must be aware of regulations applying to claims made in reference to the benefits and uses of the product, as required by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the regulatory authority that carries out assessment and monitoring programs to ensure therapeutic goods available in Australia are of an acceptable standard.

Industry Bodies

Australian Jojoba Industry Association represents growers and processors. Voluntary levies are used for RD&E.

Jojoba Australia Pty Ltd, operates under the brand name Jojocare, and is a cooperative marketing system open to all Australia growers.

Image Gallery

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Jojoba crop under cultivation

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Jojoba seed pods along plant branch

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Jojoba seed pod