Teff

24.05.17

Teff (Eragrostis tef) is a member of the grass family (Poaceae) and is a warm season grass species. It is commonly known also as Williams lovegrass, annual bunch grass, taf or xaafii. The word ‘teff’ is thought to have come from the Ethiopian word ‘teffa’ which means ‘lost’ due to the extremely small size of the grain.

The species is thought to have originated in the highlands of Ethiopia.

Overview

Teff is a self-pollinated, annual grass growing 40–80cm tall. It has a shallow fibrous root system with fine stems which are mostly erect, although some cultivars are bending or elbowing types. It has a panicle-type of flower showing different forms, from loose to compact, with the latter form having a spike-like appearance.

The flowers of teff have both the male and female parts in the same floret. Its grain is tiny measuring 0.9–1.7mm long and 0.7–1mm wide. 150 teff grains weigh as much as one grain of wheat. Its colour varies from white to dark brown.

The species is one of the major cereal crops in northern African countries, such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it has been consumed for thousands of years. It has also been used as a fodder crop for animals in these countries for many years. There is a growing interest in teff as both a human food and animal fodder in western countries.

Teff has a grain protein content similar to other cereals (10–12%) and is a good source of many minerals, having high levels of iron, calcium, phosphorus, copper, aluminium, barium and thiamine. Teff flour is used in breads, gruel, cakes and homemade beverages. As teff is gluten free it is considered a ‘health grain’ and has growing potential in the gluten free market.

Teff produced for human consumption is a new industry in Australia and much of the agronomic information comes from the USA where it is grown as a summer crop. Australian cultural practices and marketing are still being developed. It has been grown in experimental quantities in areas of Tasmania and around Tamworth in northern New South Wales.

Teff is classified as a developing industry in Australia and faces a number of challenges which are commonly posed to new industries, including developing facilities for commercial processing and establishing critical volume to develop an industry body.

Facts and figures

  • Teff is a member of the grass family
  • It originated in the highlands of Ethiopia where it has been consumed for thousands of years
  • It can be used as a gluten free grain source for human consumption or a high value fodder source for animals
  • Facilities need to be developed for commercial processing and market development needs to be undertaken for Teff in Australia for human consumption

Production status

There is currently no published production information about teff in Australia.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Teff is used for human and animal nutrition. Historically it has been used as both a food and fodder crop in Ethiopia but it has growing use as a forage crop in Australia, India, Kenya, the USA and South Africa.

There are three different types of teff consumed by humans, ‘nech’ or white, ‘key’ or brown and ‘sergegna’ or mixed. The darker the seed colour, the richer the flavour.

The bran and the germ are the most nutritious part of the grain. The grain contains high levels of calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, aluminium, barium and thiamine. It is considered to be an excellent source of the amino acid lysine, having higher levels than wheat and barley. It is also free of gluten.

The dominant use of teff in Ethiopia is injera, a fermented, unleavened pancake which is the mainstay of the Ethiopian diet. It is also consumed in the form of porridge, other breads, muffins, biscuits, cakes, casseroles and puddings. It also has potential as a thickener for soups, stews, gravies and baby foods. It is now of interest as a source of gluten-free flour in the growing health food sector in western countries.

Teff straw is a nutritious and highly preferred feed for livestock compared with the straw of other cereals, particularly during dry seasons. It can be used as standing paddock feed, hay, silage or chaff production. In Ethiopia, both the grain and seed are of higher market value than the standard cereals.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

In its natural habitat, teff prefers growing regions with altitudes of 1,700–2,200 metres. However, success in growing teff in Tasmania suggests that it can grow well at sea level as long as the temperature range (10-27°C) is suitable. Maximum production occurs with a growing season rainfall of 450–550mm. There may be potential to grow teff under irrigation.

It has been suggested that teff may also extend farmers flexibility to manage herbicide resistance, diseases and variable seasonal conditions such as drought and waterlogging.

Soil type

Teff can grow on a wide range of soil types and tolerates soil with low pH. In Ethiopia it grows best on cracking clays that can become water logged in the wet season; in Tasmania it is grown on sandy loams through to heavy clay but experience to date shows it performs better on heavy clay.

It is tolerant to waterlogging; with teff often quoted as second to rice among the cereals for tolerance of waterlogging.

Climate

Production of teff occurs in a wide range of environments, from drought-stressed country to waterlogged land in Ethiopia. Its preferred temperature is 10–27°C with 12 hours of sunlight, although experience growing in Tasmania suggests that the crop may not be day length sensitive as long as the temperature range is appropriate.

Optimum rainfall is 450–550mm a year, primarily during summer. In some areas where the summer conditions are hot and dry, irrigation is essential.

Teff does not tolerate frost.

Varieties

Early, mid and late flowering varieties are available from local and international gene banks. There can be variation in seed colour, within varieties, from white to red and brown. The red and brown seed come from plants that are generally hardier, faster maturing and easier to grow.

The variety ‘Tiffany’ is sold in US markets as a fodder species for pastures for horses, cattle and other livestock. It grows 1.0–1.2m high and can be harvested several times during its life cycle. It has a nutritive value comparable to timothy grass and as a hay, stays green longer than other grass species.

Planting and crop management

Thorough weed control prior to planting is very important for teff as there are very few chemicals registered for use on the crop. Sowing in spring is desirable to improve germination and can provide for better weed control. In Tasmania, the crop has been sown in mid-November and harvested at the beginning of May.

Teff can be sown with a conventional or no-till seed drill equipped with a small seed box. The seed may be coated with talc or a fertiliser mix to aid handling. The suggested sowing rate is 3–4kg/ha and it must not be sown too deep as this will impede emergence; a depth of 10mm is recommended. Fertiliser rates similar to grass crops are recommended.

Weeds, pests and diseases

Due to teff’s small seed size it may be vulnerable to insect attack at emergence, including red-legged earth mites, lucerne flea and other establishment pests.

Weed control prior to planting teff is important as there are no herbicides currently registered for use in teff in Australia.

Infrastructure Requirements

Teff can be grown using standard equipment used to grow other small seed crops, such as canola or grass seed, i.e. spray equipment, conventional or no-till seed drill equipped with a small seed box, a windrower, a harvester and storage system.

Harvesting & Processing

Harvest time for the seed may be difficult to gauge as the crop stays green for a long time; it also has the tendency to lodge. Ripening must be determined by the colour and moisture content of the grain.

Windrowing or desiccation may speed up the ripening process but then growers must be vigilant about the amount of soil in the harvested grain. In crops grown in Tasmania, harvesting is done at the beginning of May.

Teff can be threshed with conventional cereal equipment. The grain is easy to store in standard grain storage facilities. The main challenge at harvest is dealing with the small seeds, any gaps in the mechanical harvesting system will result in lost grain.

Contamination of the grain with soil is a serious problem since it is virtually impossible to separate the soil from the grain; therefore care must be taken when harvesting a windrowed crop.

If teff is to be produced for the gluten-free market it must be harvested and processed in equipment that is free from any potential contamination from gluten-containing cereals.

Markets & Marketing

There has been limited market development for teff undertaken in Australia. A small number of companies were selling teff for human consumption and there was some development of teff as a forage crop.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

As teff production in Australia is a developing industry, it faces many of the challenges posed to new industries. This includes the need to develop the value chain with secure markets, together with processing and storage facilities.

The main production challenges for teff in Australia are identifying suitable varieties and growing regions.

Regulatory considerations

Apart from 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), there are no regulations specific to teff operations.

Growers who wish to consider organic production of teff need to be compliant with organic production practices. See the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia for accreditation requirements.

If teff is to be incorporated in food products declared ‘gluten-free’ it must meet the standards set out by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and in the Codex Alimentarius, standards 118-1981 (amended 1983).

If teff seed is imported from overseas it must be inspected by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to ensure it is disease and weed free.

Publications

Publications/information

Agronomic evaluation of teff in Tasmania project summary, RIRDC publication, 2015

Eragrostis tef as a specialised niche crop Farmnote No. 42/2005, Department of Agriculture WA

Gluten Free Grain a demand and supply analysis of prospects for the Australian health grains industry, RIRDC Publication (2006)

Other resources

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Biosecurity. Australia’s biosecurity system protects our unique environment and agricultural sector and supports our reputation as a safe and reliable trading nation.

Food Standards Australian and New Zealand is a bi-national Government agency. It develops and administers the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, which lists requirements for foods such as additives, food safety, labelling and GM foods. Enforcement and interpretation of the Code is the responsibility of state and territory departments and food agencies within Australia and New Zealand.

Codex Alimentarius was established by FAO and WHO in 1963 to develop harmonised international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice to protect the health of the consumers and ensure fair practices in the food trade.

National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia supports the education of industry and consumers on organic, biodynamic and sustainable agricultural practices.

Industry Bodies

There is no industry body for teff in Australia.

Image Gallery

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Teff being harvested

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Teff in field