Better chickpeas to beat the heat

Host: | Date: 18 Oct 2018

  • GRDC Podcast
    Podcast

    GRDC Podcast: Better chickpeas to beat the heat

    Dr Angela Pattison’s been delving into an historic bank of chickpea plant varieties, some of which have been grown for hundreds of years in hot, dry places like the Middle East and brought to the Australian Grains Gene Bank in Horsham, Victoria. From there, Angela has selected small packets of seeds to breed and screen for heat tolerance.

    Date: 18 Oct 2018

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They’re a bit wild, straggly and ugly in the field, and some have spiky grains that look like brains and stick to your hand like Velcro.

That’s Dr Angela Pattison’s description of the international lines of chickpeas that she’s testing for heat tolerance at the University of Sydney’s Narrabri Research Station in NSW, to find varieties capable of producing yields under Australia’s hottest farming conditions.

She’s been delving into an historic bank of chickpea plant varieties, some of which have been grown for hundreds of years in hot, dry places like the Middle East and brought to the Australian Grains Gene Bank in Horsham, Victoria. From there, Angela has selected small packets of seeds to breed and screen for heat tolerance.

She says chickpeas aren’t one of the worst of the winter legumes but if there’s a heat shock late in winter, especially in mid flowering it can damage the crop, causing them to stop setting pods.

If there is terminal heat stress towards the end of October, the crop hasn’t been harvested and the plants are trying to set pods and fill them, this has big consequences for yields.

There are several mechanisms that help some plants tolerate the heat better than others – they can either produce heat shock proteins or have pollen that can withstand the heat. Some pod earlier when it’s cold, which is called ‘chilling tolerance’, and enables them to avoid the heat at the end of the season.

Angela is hopeful that the big variety of genetic material in India and the Middle East can improve the current Australian cultivars, while retaining high yield potential and tolerance to diseases like ascochyta blight.

She says it’s a lot of fun because some of the international lines ‘look a bit wild’ in the field – there are black, cream, yellow and bright green chickpeas – but the tolerance is in the physiology.

If a new chickpea line can be identified with a 2 degrees better tolerance of pollen to heat, incorporating this material in our breeding programs could change the temperature at which pollination stops – for instance, from 33 degrees to one that goes up to 35 degrees, which is good for Australian conditions.

So how far off is a new, more heat-tolerant variety? It can take 10 years from the time the cross is made to when the variety is available for release to growers.

It requires a lot of patience, but Angela says it’s worth the wait.

Multiple research programs have found that the ‘bang for your buck’ that the industry gets from identifying disease resistance and abiotic stress resistance is well worth the investment, she says.

Discovering a line that can deal with 1-2 degrees warmer or bring podding date forward a week can equate to hundreds of tonnes of extra chickpeas or hundreds of kilos of pods, so it’s well worth the investment and the time.

Further information:

Dr Angela Pattison
Plant Breeding Institute
Faculty of Agriculture and Environment
The University of Sydney
Narrabri NSW
02 6799 2253
angela.pattison@sydney.edu.au

GRDC project code: This research is part of theme 1A of the Legumes for Sustainable Agriculture, which is funded through Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Hub (IH140100013) and growers via the GRDC.

GRDC Project code: US00083