Australian Government: Grains Research and Development CororationGRDC Annual Report 2005-2006

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Output Group 1: Varieties


  • To develop and commercialise new superior crop varieties with significantly enhanced production and market performance compared to current benchmark varieties in Australia
  • To accelerate the rate of gain in key genetic traits of importance to the Australian grains industry
  • To improve overall effectiveness and cost efficiency of GRDC-supported crop improvement programs in Australia


The Varieties output group reaches across the GRDC's 25 leviable crops, spanning cereal crops (including wheat and barley), summer coarse grains, pulses and oilseeds. It supports crop improvement for domestic and export industries based on grain, with the aim of raising the overall value of the Australian grains industry.

The output group includes GRDC investments in gene discovery, breeding technologies, functional genomics, germplasm enhancement, genetic transformation, plant breeding, crop variety testing, grain quality research, and plant pathology (where directly related to breeding).

The continuing prosperity of the industry depends on the development of new varieties with enhanced yields as well as quality attributes that add value and meet market demands. The latter is being achieved by collaborating with grain marketers and bulk handlers to clarify end-user requirements.

Growing superior high-yielding varieties using optimal systems for crop management will lead to increased productivity. The search for new sources of disease resistance to incorporate into crop plants continues, alongside research to improve the understanding of the processes involved in resistance breakdown.

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In total, $55.10 million was invested through the Varieties output group in 2005-06.

In addition, the Varieties output group attracted significant co-investment from its research partners. We also relied on the skills and expertise of the people within our partner organisations.


Establishment of National Variety Trials

Australian graingrowers have been asking for independent information on the performance of crop varieties to help them decide which varieties to plant in the new season. Independent information on variety performance is also essential to accelerate the rate of adoption of new varieties.

Map of Australia showing the spread of National Variety Trial sites

Across the nation: the spread of National Variety Trials sites.

During 2005-06, the GRDC-supported National Variety Trials (NVT) were successfully established across all the major grain-growing regions of Australia. Variety data for ten winter crops (including wheat, barley and canola), from 482 GRDC-funded trials, were processed. The trial results are owned by the GRDC and published online at

NVT now provide growers with independent information on the performance of new varieties. The trials give growers the ability to compare new releases from all participating breeding programs, and give breeders the opportunity to benchmark themselves against competitors.

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Establishment of Barley Breeding Australia

A national barley-breeding program, Barley Breeding Australia (BBA), was established in 2005-06 and will commence operations in 2006-07. The program restructures six state-based barley-breeding programs into one national program with three regional breeding nodes.

The GRDC has formed a strong working relationship with the barley industry's peak body, Barley Australia. Strong links with Barley Australia, feed grain users and growers will ensure that the breeding program has access to the right market signals.

The establishment of BBA will help to prevent intellectual property issues from impeding cultivar development, giving breeders freedom to share germplasm, markers and software. BBA will also establish benchmarks and key performance indicators to monitor its performance.

Photo of barley

Barley breeding at SARDI. Photo: Brad Collis

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Establishment of the National Pulse Breeding Program

Australian temperate farming systems are highly reliant on cereals. Viable rotation crops are essential to improve the overall profitability, sustainability and diversity of these cereal-based farming systems. One option is the inclusion of a profitable pulse crop. Pulses have a very important role in the farming system, in that they provide a disease break for following cereal crops, greatly reduce nitrogen fertiliser inputs, and provide an opportunity to manage herbicide resistance.

In partnership with key research providers, the GRDC has established a National Pulse Breeding Program (NPBP) that unites the field pea, chickpea, faba bean and lentil breeding programs. The new NPBP brings together the major state government pulse-breeding agencies, Pulse Australia and the GRDC into a coordinated, national endeavour. This program operates across five states for the benefit of Australian growers, most of whom depend on pulses as part of their cereal rotation and as cash crops.

The NPBP ensures that the respective breeding programs now share germplasm, technologies and intellectual property so that benefits flow freely across the states, and their outcomes meet the regional needs of growers, marketers and buyers.

By maximising national resources and reducing duplication and fragmentation the individual breeding programs are:

Photo of Steve Murden and Michael Materne

Technical officer Steve Murden (left) and researcher Michael Materne during last year's harvest of chickpea trials at the DPI Victoria trial site at Horsham. Photo: Brad Collis

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Establishment of the National Genetic Resources Centre

The GRDC is supporting improvements in the curation of Australia's collections of plant genetic resources. In 2005-06, together with Australian Wool Innovation Ltd, state governments and the Australian Government, the GRDC supported the process to rationalise the five state-based genetic resource centres into the National Genetic Resources Centre. The new centre will be established in late 2006.

Development of world-leading wheat-breeding programs

During the past 12 months the GRDC has worked closely with the new and established wheat-breeding programs to help facilitate a smooth transition to commercially sustainable world-leading wheat-breeding programs.

The GRDC is also working with industry to improve EPR collection efficiency, which is critical to the success of a self-sustaining wheat-breeding sector.

Development of new, advanced germplasm

Through the Varieties output group, the GRDC supports grain quality research, in partnership with other sectors of the grains industry.

For wheat, during 2005-06 the GRDC worked closely with AWB International to develop a strategy for addressing quality issues that are important for securing valuable export markets in Asia. Specific investments were made in research directed at enhancing qualities required for producing noodles and for making bread using the sponge and dough process that has been widely adopted in overseas markets.

For barley, the GRDC and Barley Australia worked together to foster a 'whole-of-industry' approach to barley quality improvement. Investment in research to better understand the genetics of host-pathogen interactions and screen for disease resistance continued to contribute to the development of new cultivars with improved resistance to root and leaf diseases. The GRDC's long-term support for the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program aims to ensure that Australian growers remain protected against losses from disease. Routine screening tests on over 97,000 cereal lines, detailed tests on 513 lines, and further tests on 301 elite lines were completed this year.

Some 3,000 wheat backcross derivatives were returned to breeders for further development.

A collaborative project involving the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries and the National Durum Breeding Program at Tamworth, New South Wales, is validating and developing new sources of resistance to crown rot, a disease that seriously constrains the expansion of the durum industry in Australia. In 2005-06, 17 Japanese bread wheat lines with reported resistance to the disease were tested under Australian conditions, and the two best performers were crossed with Australian material for further assessment and development.

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Importation of new wheat germplasm

The introduction and development of novel germplasm is recognised as a critically important component of breeding new varieties. To make effective use of existing genetic variation, the GRDC has been building on international collaborations that have already made major contributions to the long-term productivity and sustainability of the Australian grains industry.

This year the GRDC put in place new arrangements to coordinate the introduction and evaluation of new genetic material from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico. In addition, a new alliance was developed with the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), based in Syria, identified as having a strategic fit with the GRDC in the quest for improved cereal and pulse varieties for challenging agricultural environments.

Photo of Robert Park

Researcher Robert Park outside the microclimate rooms used for screening cereal lines with important rust pathotypes. Photo: Brad Collis

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Identification of significant genes

The discovery of new genetic sources of rust resistance continues through a number of GRDC-funded projects.

Research at the University of Adelaide has identified novel genes for stem rust resistance from uncultivated relatives of wheat and has recombined a number of these genes in wheat germplasm backgrounds. In 2005-06, the resulting rustresistant recombinant lines were tested by the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program and sent to wheat-breeding companies in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia for further testing and development.

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Development of new breeding technologies

New technologies that can speed up the process of delivering new cereal varieties are being developed as a result of continuing investment in molecular biology research.

The Australian Winter Cereals Molecular Marker Program was extended for three years from July 2004, with emphasis on the validation and implementation of markers for wheat and barley breeding. This world-leading marker program has had significant impact on breeding programs in Australia.

The GRDC also supported gene discovery for plant improvement and crop protection, through research projects that include partnerships with the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the Grain Protection Genes program to develop novel approaches to abiotic stress and biotic stress respectively. Investment was also made in two cooperative research centres (CRCs), the Molecular Plant Breeding CRC and the Value Added Wheat CRC, to further enhance the technological base for cereal crop improvement.

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Improvements in sorghum insect resistance

Photo of female midge insect

Female midge.

The sorghum-breeding program develops germplasm to increase genetic diversity (resulting in increased crop security) and to combine increased yield potential with key traits such as improved grain quality and resistance to sorghum midge, drought and disease. The material is licensed to the seed industry for use in breeding programs.

A key achievement of the program has been the development of germplasm with levels of midge resistance such that it would rarely be economic for growers to spray for midge. An integrated pest management system has been developed combining midge-resistant hybrids and Gemstar (a virus to control heliothis). This system allows the build-up of natural predatory insects and results in chemical-free control of insects in sorghum. The economic benefit of this system is around $20 million a year, and significant environmental benefits are also achieved through the reduction in chemical use.

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Improvements in canola disease resistance

Photo of blackleg disease

Blackleg is the most damaging disease of canola worldwide.

Blackleg caused by Leptosphaeria maculans and stem rot caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum are two fungal diseases that use different strategies to invade canola. Blackleg is specific to brassicas and related species. Sclerotinia has a broad host range and produces toxins and other factors that kill plant cells and cause rapid lesion formation.

A research team at the University of Melbourne is investigating these diseases and their relationships with the host plant at the molecular level to develop more robust genetic resistance in commercial cultivars.

The team has identified-and, in some cases, characterised-several genes in the blackleg and stem rot fungi that are active during infection and may present good targets for inhibition through either genetic manipulation of the host plant or application of novel fungicides.

Field studies of the variability of the blackleg pathogen have shown that the disease responds by changing its genetic makeup according to the spatial distribution of existing cultivars with differing genetic resistance. This finding strongly suggests that strategic deployment of genetic resistance has the potential to be used as another weapon in staying one step ahead of the disease.

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Improvements in Australian peanuts

Photo of Wayne Weller

Kingaroy peanut grower Wayne Weller checking on maturity in threshed peanuts. Photo: Rebecca Thyer

Prior to 1994, varieties introduced from overseas dominated peanut rJanuary 31, 2007y flow of locally bred releases, with a focus on market requirements such as high oleic oil content for enhanced shelf life and health benefits for consumers. With GRDC support, the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries breeding program at Kingaroy has been able to 'stack' additional traits into three new high-oleic varieties, which will provide further advantages to Australian growers by stabilising yields and lowering production costs.

A considerable proportion of the Australian peanut production area is rainfed, in environments with erratic rainfall. The availability of a much earlier maturing variety means that growers can now be assured of achieving a viable yield even under extreme drought conditions. The new variety also provides a greater range of sowing dates, giving dryland growers the opportunity to further spread their risk.

Fungal leaf diseases such as leaf spot and leaf rust also significantly affect peanut yield and quality, especially in the wetter, more humid production environments. In these regions the cost of foliar fungicides can be up to 30 percent of input costs. Foliar disease resistance is therefore crucial for maintaining production and protecting the environment. A second new variety, which possesses outstanding resistance to peanut foliar diseases, is now available for use in irrigated farming systems in these regions. This new line should have a significant impact on grower profitability, as it is the first commercial variety to combine this level of foliar disease resistance with good yield potential and quality.

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Improvements in vetch versatility

Vetch is a versatile crop adopted by growers as a pulse rotation in the low-rainfall areas of New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. In some areas vetch, with its relatively high drought tolerance, provides the only reliable pulse option. Vetches can be used as grain, hay, silage, pasture and green manure. The current breeding program has made substantial progress towards the use of vetch as a multipurpose crop, not only in increasing yields in the following cereal crops but also as a valuable, high-protein feed grain for the sheep and pig industries. Including vetch grain in lamb diets has also been shown to noticeably increase lamb growth rates.

The South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), in partnership with the GRDC, has developed a new, earlier maturing vetch. RasinaA will expand grain and hay options for the low-rainfall regions of southern Australia where drought is the major problem for the later maturing variety MoravaA. RasinaA is resistant to rust and ascochyta and is a soft-seed variety with non-shattering seed pods, so harvest can be delayed with minimal grain loss.

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Case Study

Molecular markers continue speeding the breeding

Photo of crop of Baudin

Yield comparison of acid-tolerant BaudinPlant Breeder's Rights icon (left), an acid-tolerant breeding line (centre) and acid-sensitive BaudinPlant Breeder's Rights icon (right) at Wongan Hill Research Station (topsoil acidity pH 5.5 and subsoil acidity pH 4.2).

The application of molecular markers in plant breeding can significantly reduce the time and cost required to develop new varieties.The GRDC has supported the development of molecular marker technologies since the late 1990s. In particular, its current investment in the Australian Winter Cereals Molecular Marker Program (AWCMMP) totals $3.1 million per annum. This world-leading program is a concerted, national effort to develop and validate new molecular markers and marker technologies, and to apply them in wheat and barley breeding.

A good example of how molecular markers are used in plant breeding is a GRDC-supported barley-breeding program in Western Australia involving the AWCMMP and the Department of Agriculture and Food of Western Australia (DAFWA). One aim of the program is to develop barley that will tolerate acid soils.

Compared to other cereals, barley is particularly sensitive to soil acidity. Acidity with high levels of toxic aluminium is the largest soil constraint limiting sustainable crop production in Australia. At least 50 million hectares of surface soils and 23 million hectares of subsoils in Australia are acidic. Although effective on topsoil, surface liming does not ameliorate subsoil acidity. The combination of liming and sowing acid-tolerant crops will provide a better answer to soil acidity than soil management practices alone.

In the late 1990s researchers at DAFWA screened barley germplasm sourced from CSIRO, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, and international germplasm collections, including the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, for useful acid soil tolerance. Once the trait had been identified, researchers at the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries mapped it and identified molecular markers closely linked to it.

Back at DAFWA, researchers validated these markers and used them successfully in their backcrossing program to produce acid-tolerant breeding lines of the malting barley varieties BaudinA and HamelinA. On acid soils, the new breeding lines showed at least a 20 percent yield increase compared to the standard varieties. The benefits were highest in highly acid, aluminium-toxic soils, but growers on slightly acid soils are also expected to see yield benefits. In 2005-06, the new breeding lines commenced extensive variety testing in preparation for intended release in 2009.

This will have significant implications for grain production on acid soils. Profitable barley production will soon be added to the rotation across large areas of Western Australia, and to those southern regions where the new variety will replace the old, acid-sensitive BaudinA. In Western Australia alone, the new acid-tolerant BaudinA is expected to generate economic benefits totalling tens of millions of dollars each year for the barley industry once the new variety is rapidly and widely adopted.

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Case Study

Access to international germplasm to benefit local industry

Photo of wheat

Doubled haploid, high harvest index wheat at a CIMMYT field station in Obregon, Mexico.

Continued access to wheat germplasm produced by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico has been very important for the development of Australian wheat varieties that have contributed to the productivity and sustainability of the Australian wheat industry. The GRDC recognises this contribution and aims to ensure that the Australian industry continues to derive maximum benefit from CIMMYT germplasm in the future. This will be achieved through GRDC support for a number of projects aimed at accessing, maintaining and enhancing the utilisation of this germplasm resource, and delivering relevant information and germplasm to Australian wheat breeders and researchers.

The projects focus on targeting, importing and evaluating CIMMYT germplasm for Australia, as well as developing tools to assist in this process. A communication project run by the Value Added Wheat Cooperative Research Centre provides breeders and other interested parties with a onestop shop for all information relating to CIMMYT germplasm and its whereabouts. This allows assessment of information and individual targeting of CIMMYT germplasm for Australia. The communication project also provides Australian breeders with the opportunity to visit CIMMYT and get first-hand knowledge of new germplasm being evaluated in field trials in Mexico.

A second project involving the evaluation of synthetic wheat-breeding lines may also deliver benefits to the Australian grains industry. The project aims to increase the genetic diversity of wheat by exploiting natural genetic variation in wild relatives. This may overcome the narrow genetic variation present in today's cultivated wheat varieties, to make breakthroughs in relation to resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, quality attributes and adaptation to different growing conditions.

This model for international germplasm introduction is working well for wheat in the Australian grains industry. It could set the model platform for international germplasm introduction for other species, such as barley, and will fit comfortably into the strategy that the GRDC and its research partners are developing for pre-competitive germplasm breeding.

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Output Group 1: Varieties
Investment strategies Achievements
Winter cereals

Ten new varieties of wheat with increased yield, disease and pest resistance, and tolerance to abiotic stresses, as well as improved quality and agronomic attributes, were made available to growers. For example, BullaringA, a relatively high-yielding soft wheat with multiple rust resistances, became available to soft wheat growers in Western Australia, offering an economically competitive alternative to the rust-susceptible variety EGA 2248A.

In addition, six new malting barley varieties and two new feed varieties of wheat were released. One example, Flagship, was bred specifically for the large brewing and malting market in South-east Asia, China and Japan. Apart from its market advantages, Flagship has a grain yield 7% higher than the current industry standard, and improved disease resistance.


The canola-breeding program developed new varieties including:

  • two conventional cultivars
  • one triazine-tolerant cultivar
  • two speciality high-oleic, low-linolenic (HOLL) cultivars-HOLL varieties produce oil with relatively low levels of unsaturated fats and enhanced frying stability
  • one 'Clearfield type' cultivar
  • Brassica juncea (or canola-quality mustard cultivars) in seed increase. In lowrainfall regions, these have several agronomic advantages over Brassica napus cultivars, including more vigorous seedling growth, quicker ground-covering ability, greater heat and drought tolerance, and enhanced resistance to the fungal disease blackleg.
Sorghum The sorghum-breeding program developed germplasm with increased genetic diversity, improved grain quality and significantly improved resistance to sorghum midge, drought and disease.

The pulse-breeding program released new varieties including:

  • a new mung bean cultivar with higher yield, superior quality and improved disease resistance
  • two types of kabuli chickpea
  • three albus lupin cultivars
  • three high-oleic peanut cultivars
  • the first Australian-bred lentils. The new red lentil combines good seed quality with resistance to ascochyta blight and botrytis grey mould. It will reduce fungicide costs and risk in disease-prone areas. The new green lentil has larger seed size and improved disease resistance.

The program also took part in three AFLOMAN training workshops. AFLOMAN is a web-based decision support tool to help peanut growers assess the best time to harvest to achieve maximal returns and minimal aflatoxin contamination.

Commercialisation With our research partners and co-owners, the GRDC has been actively involved in seeking plant breeder's rights and the commercialisation of new varieties. This activity includes both the selection of licensees and the negotiation of suitable agreements. Where the GRDC has invested in plant breeding through equity in a plant-breeding company, the company has been responsible for commercialising the varieties released.
Crop variety testing-establishment of the National Variety Trials programin consultation with research partnersand industry stakeholders National Variety Trials were successfully established across all the majorgrain-growing regions of Australia. Variety data for ten winter crops (including wheat, barley and canola) from 482 GRDC-funded trials were processed. Trial results are published online at
Wheat-breeding programs-achievement of key milestones for2005-06 The wheat-breeding programs promoted lines, from their germplasm pipelines, that have a range of improved characteristics and provide economic benefit to growers through higher yields and/or lower risk of being adversely affected by pest, disease or abiotic stress. Where breeding programs had set goals for attaining market share with particular varieties, they successfully achieved those targets.
Barley breeding-establishment of a nationally coordinated program for barley breeding, with strong market links A national barley-breeding program, Barley Breeding Australia, was established, and will commence operations in 2006-07. The program rationalises six state-based barley-breeding programs into one national program with three regional nodes. Strong links with the industry's peak body, Barley Australia, feed grain users and growers have been formed, to ensure that the breeding program has access to the right market signals.
Pulse improvement-establishment of a nationally coordinated program for field peas, chickpeas, lentils and faba beans, with strong market links The National Pulse Breeding Program (NPBP) began on 1 January 2006. The NPBP brings together research partners across five states for the benefit of the Australian pulse industry. Pulse Australia is the peak body for industry consultation and market intelligence. The program is underpinned by a national market-focused plan for each pulse.
Importation of new wheat germplasm-coordination of arrangements forthe introduction and evaluation of the International Maize and WheatImprovement Center (CIMMYT) germplasm for Australian breeding programs The GRDC established a suite of projects focused on identifying, importing and evaluating CIMMYT germplasm relevant to Australia. Work began to expand the program to incorporate germplasm from other international sources.
Genetic resources centres-establishment of a nationally coordinated project for the curationof crop and pasture plant speciesfor Australian agriculture Together with Australian Wool Innovation Ltd, state governments and the Australian Government, the GRDC supported the rationalisation of the five state-based genetic resource centres into the National Genetic Resources Centre.
Major research programs-achievement of key milestones for2005-06 for the Australian Centrefor Plant Functional Genomics(ACPFG), Value Added Wheat Cooperative Research Centre, Molecular Plant Breeding Cooperative Research Centre and the Australian Winter Cereals Molecular Marker program The ACPFG delivered world-class science and training, and attracted international commercial collaborators. The CRC programs were integrated to ensure that research outputs were applied to developing new cereal varieties. The commercial impact of molecular marker research was realised, with all bJanuary 31, 2007>

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