Col Douglas inspects National Mungbean Improvement Program breeding lines for signs of disease at the Hermitage Research Station in Warwick, Queensland.
PHOTO: Tom Dixon
Over the past decade, research in Queensland has led to the development of much higher yielding mungbean varieties, such as Jade-AU and Crystal. This research has been made possible through investment by the GRDC and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF). The next stage in the breeding work is to develop more disease-resistant varieties.
The National Mungbean Improvement Program (NMIP), based at Queensland DAF’s Hermitage Research Facility in Warwick, is focused on improving resistance to the major foliar diseases – halo blight, tan spot and powdery mildew.
Traditionally, older varieties were susceptible to foliar disease resulting in lower productivity and reliability, Queensland DAF plant breeder Col Douglas says.
“NMIP is addressing this constraint to growth and industry confidence with resistant breeding lines developed here in Queensland and with a fresh injection of germplasm imported from the AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center. We’ve tested some of this material and, where suitable, brought it into our breeding program. We expect to deliver Australian mungbean varieties with big jumps in disease resistance as a result,” he says.
Barriers to reliability in mungbeans have been the focus of the past 10 years of work, Mr Douglas says. “We’ve had big advances in yield and reliability in that time, with varieties such as Crystal and Jade-AU also achieving improvements in disease resistance. But much more is still to be done.
“Mungbeans are most affected by the seed-borne bacterial diseases halo blight and tan spot, for which there are no in-crop control measures available. Our work has focused on breeding resistant mungbean varieties, since genetic resistance is the most effective component of integrated foliar disease management,” he says.
A better understanding of the science behind the disease resistance will allow researchers to work on new improved varieties in the future. Exciting new resistance to both halo blight and tan spot has also been identified in the closely related crop black gram. This species is not easily crossed with mungbean and, along with wild mungbean, remains a valuable source of new genes and knowledge, for which NMIP is trying to develop new strategic investment opportunities.
The mungbean industry was yielding 30,000 tonnes 10 years ago, and that figure has now risen to 70,000t. This can be attributed both to the increased planting of Crystal and Jade-AU, as well as sound management and good industry support.
The industry’s strategic plan is to reach a 170,000t production target in the near future.
Key to that goal in terms of yield potential and disease resistance is the development of new varieties.
“The more germplasm, genes and genetic tools we have at our disposal, the more able we are to deliver the outcomes needed to help the industry go from strength to strength,” Mr Douglas says.
“We have imported over 400 lines from AVRDC. This is our library, our resource, our working material. With additional Queensland Government investment in mungbean research through Queensland University of Technology (QUT), we have been able to apply genomics and new breeding tools to get more value from germplasm, and to apply this knowledge directly in our GRDC-supported breeding program.”
By taking the lead from larger crops such as wheat, a greater understanding of adaptation and of resistance to biotic and abiotic traits is how future yield gains in mungbean can be achieved.
NMIP’s most recent variety, Celera II-AU (released in May 2014), is the first variety bred specifically for halo blight resistance.
Although it is a small-seeded type for niche export markets, Mr Douglas says Celera II-AU illustrates the value of working with genetically diverse and even unadapted germplasm.
“Similarly, the program has a new line identified as a potential replacement for the ageing black gram variety Regur that could be available as early as 2017,” he says. “In addition to better disease resistance than green mungbeans, this line has shown increased tolerance to waterlogging and outstanding performance under drought.”
Better varieties, more planting
Mungbeans are seen by some producers as just an ‘opportunity’ crop, but farming systems previously dominated by rotations based on sorghum/cotton/sunflowers and wheat/durum have increased their returns on capital and optimised profitability by adding mungbeans to their cropping mix.
“Adopting the new varieties of mungbean such as Crystal and Jade-AU has been instrumental to this increased profitability,” Mr Douglas says.
Mungbean plantings such as this, he says, have increased in recent years because of more confidence in better varieties and support information from a proactive industry.
“With the current investment and work towards developing new and exciting varieties, the future has never been as bright for growers wanting to make the switch to mungbeans,” Mr Douglas says.
“Over the past decade, summer grains, including mungbeans, have cemented their place in northern rotations as valuable break crops for managing pests, diseases and herbicide resistance,” says GRDC Northern Panel chair James Clark.
2014-15 was a bumper season across parts of the northern cropping belt with high market prices riding on the back of strong demand from China. In recognition of this, the GRDC is offering growers an ‘agronomic helping hand’ with the launch of the Mungbean GrowNotes.
The Mungbean GrowNotes can be accessed at the GRDC website. It equips growers with the latest research and extension information, paving the way for valuable gains in crop production and profitability through improved management decisions.
The module offers best-practice advice on all aspects of mungbean production, from pre-sowing planning to paddock preparation, sowing practices, crop nutrition, fertiliser, weed control, disease and pest management, harvest and storage practices, environmental issues and marketing.
“The GRDC is well aware that the production and agronomic challenges confronting the northern grains industry are ever growing in size and complexity,” Mr Clark says.
“We will continue to invest in areas that can help drive profitability improvements for northern growers and that includes communicating crop-specific best-practice management recommendations that have been developed as a result of more than 20 years of regionally focused R&D work.
“GRDC GrowNotes will play a vital role in keeping growers and advisers abreast of the latest research work and outcomes, and will be regularly updated as new information comes to hand.
“At the same time, it will help the GRDC identify any gaps in research needs and earmark them as potential future investment areas,” he says.
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