Keeping up with the competition

Growers through the GRDC support research links, including travel, with overseas scientists and institutions. Dr JanBert Brouwer, Pulses Program Leader, Victorian Institute for Dryland Agriculture (VIDA), Horsham, and a coordinator of several national pulse breeding programs, gives a few good reasons why keeping up with the competition, in this case in marketing, is a good idea.

Over the last decade or so, Australia has become a leading exporter of temperate pulses such as field peas, chickpeas and lentils. Domestic consumption of pulse products is very limited both here and in other developed countries such as Canada, so exports are the main focus. However, pulses are grown as crops on most continents.

To remain competitive it is very important that Australian pulse researchers keep in touch with overseas research developments. International networking with both public and private organisations is essential in this field.

A good example comes from a recent visit to pulse scientists and marketers in a series of Near Eastern and European countries (Syria, Turkey, Hungary, France and UK) to establish new contacts or to strengthen ongoing collaboration.

Turkey, in particular, is a major competitor of Australia's in the international chickpea and lentil markets, while France is the largest pea-producing country in the world. GRDC-funded pulse-breeding programs in Australia have several collaborative links with major institutions such as the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, based in Syria (ICARDA).

ICARDA has a world mandate to improve chickpeas and lentils, in particular in the Mediterranean environments of West Asia and northern Africa.

The collaboration has allowed Australia to make rapid progress in developing new industries such as lentils and chickpeas, utilising overseas germplasm.

In discussions with private plant-breeding companies in Europe, agreements were reached to evaluate 17 new European pea varieties as part of the interstate pea variety trials conducted by the Australian Coordinated Pea Improvement Program (ACPIP) at 10 locations in five States (Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia).

Some of these European varieties have begun to dominate the pea industry in other parts of the world such as Canada. Australian graingrowers who saw some of these peas growing in Canada were very impressed with their standing ability.

There is considerable interest in peas that are easier to harvest. And, following discussions at INRA, the government agricultural research organisation in France, Australia has obtained pea germplasm with improved resistance to Ascochyta blight, to be evaluated here.

Winter pea types that may suit certain pea-growing regions in Australia better than the current spring types were also introduced following the visit.

There is much research activity in Europe into techniques for processing and extracting pea grain components. Keeping up with innovations such as these is critically important to the industry.

In England it was arranged for Australian chickpea grain and flour samples to be assessed at the John Innes Institute, UK, in a preliminary comparative trial with Food Science Australia and VIDA.

Program 4.2.1

Contact: Dr JanBert Brouwer 03 5362 2111