Ted Knights (left), winner of the Farrer Memorial Award, with Michael Bullen, NSW DPI deputy director-general.
PHOTO: Liz Wells
Wet weather at this year’s Australian Pulse Conference at Tamworth, NSW, did more than wash out the field day. It got Australia’s pulse community thinking about what may be the next big hurdle for the industry – overcoming botrytis grey mould (BGM).
Dr Kevin Moore, leader of the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) research and advisory programs on chickpea diseases, told the gathering that this year could be the one that drives home the need for the industry to steel itself against BGM.
“As the planet continues to warm, BGM is likely to become an ongoing problem,” Dr Moore said.
“We first saw it here in 1998, it finished off crops in 2010, and in 2016 it’s looking like it may displace ascochyta blight as the major disease in our region.”
But the research community’s ability to develop varieties and agronomic solutions to create the thriving Australian pulse industry of today could not be ignored, and the greatest reminder of its successes came from Ted Knights.
As the winner of this year’s Farrer Memorial Award for distinguished service to Australian agricultural science, Mr Knights delivered the 2016 Farrer Memorial Oration at the conference dinner and received a standing ovation.
Mr Knights initiated Australia’s chickpea breeding program in the 1970s, and paid tribute to researchers in and beyond NSW who had seen the industry overcome three major challenges in its development: lack of harvestability, phytophthora and ascochyta blight.
“Chickpeas now have 30 per cent of the winter-crop area in Queensland, and 20 per cent in northern NSW; it’s an outcome I would have thought fanciful in the early years,” Mr Knights said.
The conference ran from 12 to 14 September and brought together industry participants to look at Australia’s key pulse crops: chickpeas, field peas, faba beans, mungbeans, lentils and lupins.
And even though plans to visit the NSW DPI’s Tamworth Agricultural Institute and Liverpool Plains Field Research Station, and the University of Sydney’s E.J. Holtsbaum Research Station at Breeza were washed out, presenters revamped their spiels for the confines of the Tamworth Town Hall.
The conference program overall looked at the potential for pulses to expand their area as the focus of farming systems, rather than just their cash value.
Possibilities speakers addressed included the growing of faba beans in the Mallee, lupins in central NSW and pulses in the tropics.
The conference also found out about the latest Pulse Breeding Australia chickpea variety, PBA SeamerA, which will be available commercially next year and has improved resistance to ascochyta blight.
Dr Moore said that in field trials at Tulloona in 2010, PBA SeamerA had been “the last to go down to botrytis grey mould”, illustrating that breeding and appropriate agronomic practices offer hope to challenges such as disease.
“It has an open habit, and you can manipulate the canopy architecture of varieties, or plant in wider rows,” he says.
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