Australian Government - Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Annual Report 2004-05.  Meeting stakeholder needs through cooperative innovation
Home Contents Vision, Mission & Corporate Values 2004 -05 Highlights Letter of transmittal Contact details
Part 1 - Overview Part 2 - Our outputs Part 3 - Our organisation Part 4 - Financial statements Appendices Glossary

Part 2: Our Outputs

Output Group 2: Crop Improvement


To increase the profitability and sustainability of the grains industry by the release of new, better adapted varieties of pulses, oilseeds and coarse grains for different farming systems.

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Brondwen MacLean (02) 6272 5525

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The Crop Improvement Program covers the breeding and evaluation of pulse, oilseed and summer coarse grain crops. The main focus of the program is on germplasm enhancement, plant breeding and agronomic improvement for the various crops. To support these objectives the program also invests in new technologies that can accelerate the process of delivering new and better varieties.

The program promotes strong links to various international agricultural research centres to ensure access to new germplasm for the crops. In addition, breeding material developed in Australia is screened overseas for resistance to exotic diseases.

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In total, $13.45 million was invested through the program in 2004-05.

These inputs set out to develop new varieties and improved management packages for pulses, oilseeds and summer coarse grains. Many of these crops have an important dual role to play - they provide break crops for growing in rotation with winter cereals, as well as providing additional income for growers. With summer rainfall events they also provide additional income for growers via opportunity cropping.

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Fab faba beans

The release of the new faba bean variety CairoProtected by Plant Breeder's Rights by GRDC-supported pulse breeding programs has renewed interest in growing faba beans in the north. Plantings of over 3,000 hectares in 2004 exceeded expectations, and current demand for seed is still outstripping supply. The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries selected CairoProtected by Plant Breeder's Rights because it was bred specifically for cropping systems in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.

The combination of increased yield, seed size and disease resistance offered by CairoProtected by Plant Breeder's Rights makes it a significant advance over varieties currently available for the north. Faba beans in the northern region are often affected by the diseases rust and chocolate spot. CairoProtected by Plant Breeder's Rights is moderately resistant to rust and, even in the most severe epidemics, will reduce but not eliminate the need for fungicide sprays to control the disease. CairoProtected by Plant Breeder's Rights also has a larger seed than other varieties do, making it better suited to the quality attributes (size, colour and uniformity) that importing nations, such as Egypt, are looking for.

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Amazing MaizeMan

Australian maizegrowers are learning to 'do it smarter'. In the face of increasing costs for inputs, particularly water, and the need to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, CSIRO has further developed MaizeMan, with GRDC support. MaizeManVersion 2 is a more user-friendly decision support system that helps maize growers to maximise their profitability and increase their sustainability by using water and nitrogen more efficiently. MaizeMan allows growers to run 'what if' scenarios on their own computers, to simulate the effects of climate, sowing times, irrigation and nitrogen management on maize growth and yields. It can help growers answer specific questions such as 'What will happen to my yield or my water use efficiency if I stretch my irrigation schedule from five to seven days?', 'What if I change my sowing date to next week?', 'What if I apply more nitrogen?', and so on.

MaizeMan's huge advantage is that it can be tailored to an individual grower's situation, using their paddock-specific soil types, weather and management regimes. For example, a grower may want to analyse aspects of the performance of a previous crop, such as how yield compared with the crop's potential, when and where the crop suffered stresses, and what management strategies would have helped to improve crop performance. However, MaizeMan does not just look backwards - it can assist the grower to make real-time decisions about issues such as irrigation scheduling and likely water use requirements, and help the grower to calculate exactly the tradeoffs between water use and yield. As a tool for maize growers, it really is 'amaizing'.

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Lupins on the up and up

Lupins were once a significant crop (reaching two million tonnes a year), particularly in Western Australia, but the outbreak of the fungal disease anthracnose in 1996 has severely impacted on production. GRDC-supported breeding programs had been concentrating on yield, but with the emergence of anthracnose they had to change to breeding for resistance to the disease. Their efforts led to the release of several varieties with improved disease resistance, but it turned out that those varieties were adversely affected by the broadleaf herbicide metribuzin.

To address this, the breeders screened their germplasm for tolerance to the herbicide. This work has led to the development of the new variety MandelupProtected by Plant Breeder's Rights, which has strong resistance to anthracnose and, most importantly, is tolerant to metribuzin. Together, these two attributes will allow lupins to be retained as a break crop in crop rotation, thus contributing to more sustainable agriculture. In addition, the new variety's improved resistance to aphids should reduce pesticide use, which in turn will reduce input costs and increase profitability for growers.

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National approach to pulse packages

Given the increasing number of pulse varieties being released each year it is easy for growers and marketers to become confused. So, in partnership with the GRDC and the various state agencies, Pulse Australia has developed a program to produce pulse variety management packages for all new varieties.

Each management package is specific to a particular variety and covers all aspects of its agronomic management, including optimum sowing times, plant density, weed and disease control, particular herbicide treatments and harvest management. The packages also assist in meeting grower needs for information that is independent, objective, credible and up to date.

This is a national approach that coordinates research in key production areas across Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. The packages will enhance the adoption of new pulse varieties and deliver benefits along the value chain to growers, agronomists and marketers alike, thus enhancing the ability of growers to capture all the benefits of a new variety.

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On-farm disease management

The GRDC continues to invest in the development of new strategies to better manage the devastating blackleg disease. Blackleg is the most serious disease of canola in Australia, and its severity has increased in recent years in parallel with the intensity of canola production.

Whilst the GRDC and its research partners continue to invest in breeding for blackleg resistance, the industry is also looking at strategies on how to better manage the disease. Ongoing research by Dr Steve Marcroft indicates that, if growers do not grow varieties with the same source of blackleg resistance in consecutive years and continue to grow crops away from last year's stubble, disease pressure drops markedly. This is good news for growers, indicating that they can manage this disease on-farm.

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CASE STUDY: Resurrecting the chickpea industry

Prior to the emergence of ascochyta blight in Australia in 1997, the chickpea industry was expanding rapidly. However, as none of the varieties available at that time had any resistance to the disease, ascochyta blight led to the virtual collapse of chickpea production across the southern and western regions (see figure below).

Chart showing Chickpea production in tonnes by state between 1985 and 2006

The emergence of the disease required a major shift in emphasis by the agencies involved in chickpea research. A number of strategies were employed to combat ascochyta blight. One was the development of a management package to minimise the impact of the disease. Another was the screening of a large number of chickpea lines in Turkey and at ICARDA (the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas) in Syria, for resistance to the disease.

At the same time, the breeders made specific crosses for ascochyta blight resistance. These were assessed in their disease nurseries and the best lines were rapidly advanced by single-seed descent. The first variety with improved resistance, HowzatProtected by Plant Breeder's Rights, was released in 2002, but it was useful only as an interim measure to sustain the industry.

As a result of the determined efforts of the breeders in the various programs, a number of new varieties with greatly improved ascochyta blight resistance and good seed quality are to be released this year. The new varieties are Genesis 508™, from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries program, and 93011-1021, from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries program. Both of these varieties have significantly improved resistance to ascochyta blight, and they should lead to a resurgence of the crop in the southern and western regions.

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The following table summarises achievements against the key strategies and performance indicators specified for the program in the 2004-05 Annual Operational Plan.
Output Group 2: Crop Improvement
Strategies Achievements
Germplasm improvement in canola, lupins, maize, sorghum, chickpeas and peanuts

The National Brassica Improvement Program made significant progress in 2005, increasing the seed bank of several new cultivars - including both conventional and herbicide tolerant, high-oleic - low-linolenic acid types of canola - and further developing canola-quality Brassica juncea(mustard). A new mid-maturity triazine tolerant canola variety was released in 2005, in addition to two conventional varieties.

The incorporation of new and desirable traits into lupin germplasm continued. Advanced germplasm with increased quality attributes, including reduced hull and pod wall thickness, was delivered to the lupin-breeding program. A major focus of the lupin program is on increasing protein levels and herbicide tolerance. A new variety with increased herbicide tolerance was released in October 2004 as Mandelup, and there has been considerable uptake of this variety.

Seed increase of eight prospective new peanut varieties is underway, while breeding lines and other diverse germplasm are being assessed for cadmium tolerance.

The maize program has provided germplasm with increased disease resistance and with improved drought tolerance with quicker and earlier maturity. The program continues to build on its links with CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) in Mexico to introduce new germplasm with better traits.

Development of better agronomic management packages for pulses and oilseeds in the different regions

Pulse Australia, in partnership with state agencies and the GRDC, has produced variety management packages for new chickpea and faba bean varieties over the past 12 months. Data from agronomic research trials, including information on optimum sowing dates, herbicide tolerance, weed control and end-point royalties, has been collated and incorporated into these packages.

The Australian canola industry supports a blackleg resistance rating system compiled from data supplied by all canola-breeding programs and associated pathologists across Australia. This national system is based on the most up-to-date data available and has ensured consistent ratings for Australia. Most importantly, over the preceding 18 months it has assisted in the management and eventual withdrawal of canola varieties based on single-gene resistance to blackleg.

Development of a program to integrate the molecular, phenotypic, environmental and management data to significantly enhance plant breeding It is too early to report outcomes from this strategy. However, integration is progressing satisfactorily, with the development of a marker array for sorghum and progression towards an integrated map. Sorghum is being used as the model crop for this work.
Indicators Performance
New genotypes - increased adoption of new varieties from the pulse, oilseed and summer coarse grain programs

The following have been released:

  • two soybean varieties, with large seed, superior tofu-making potential and higher yield
  • one albus lupin variety with improved pleiochaeta root rot resistance
  • four desi chickpeas
  • one narrow-leaf lupin with increased anthracnose resistance and herbicide tolerance
  • three conventional canola varieties
  • two maize hybrids
  • improved sorghum germplasm
  • one faba bean variety.
New sources of germplasm - achieve access for Australian scientists by improving linkages with overseas organisations See achievements listed above against germplasm improvement.
New technologies - achieve adoption by the breeding programs

Molecular markers for resistance to anthracnose and phomopsis have been discovered and are now being used in the narrow-leaf lupin breeding program in Western Australia.

Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT) has been successfully developed for sorghum.

Practice change - achieve adoption of new management practices, for improved production and quality

The following resources have been developed:

  • fungicide use and management packages for blackleg control in canola
  • an Australian blackleg management guide for canola growers
  • MaizeMan, a decision support tool for Australian maize growers
  • variety management packages for pulses
  • protocols for the management of chickpea diseases
  • accredited courses on chickpeas and mungbeans for growers and advisers.
Industry learning - improving market signals to plant breeders, researchers and industry

Support has been provided to:

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Page last updated: January 3, 2006
© Grains Research and Development Corporation 2005