EDITORIAL by John Lovett Global links for better varieties

Photo of John Lovett

MUCH OF the GRDC's investment in genetic improvement of crop varieties is focused on the delivery of robust varieties, that is, varieties that are resistant, or tolerant, to pests and diseases, and which consistently meet the specifications of premium marketing grades for which they are eligible.

Research has been conducted to identify the nature of specific production constraints. Examples include aluminium and boron toxicity, and the effect of root lesion nematodes, which are now major targets of plant breeding programs. The relatively recent elucidation of the causes of black point, long thought to be due to fungal infection, has now shown it to be associated with physiological changes in the grain under certain environmental conditions. These and other discoveries provide the underpinning knowledge that permits researchers to discover genetic variation for such constraints, and the incorporation of that variation in new crop varieties.

The linkages established by the GRDC, which are necessary for achieving these outcomes on a broad front, are extensive. They include the GRDC-CIMMYT strategic alliance, the investment in the Global Conservation Trust, and the Graingene joint venture. These and companion initiatives have the objective of keeping the Australian grain industry at the forefront of innovative approaches to developing new crop varieties.

The GRDC-sponsored visit earlier this year by Nobel Prize winner, Dr Norman Borlaug, served as a strong reminder of major past achievements in agricultural research. In his 1970 oration accepting the Nobel Prize, Dr Borlaug described the All-India Coordinated Wheat Improvement Program as "one of the most extensive and widely diversified wheat research programs in the world. Its success has generated confidence, a sense of purpose and determination. The current agronomic research on wheat in India equals the best in the world. The breeding program is huge, diversified and aggressive." Now, India not only feeds itself but has become a food exporter.

In Australia, the GRDC strives to deliver outcomes for the grain industry in a manner similar to the great accomplishments witnessed by Borlaug in India some 35 years ago. There are strong imperatives for the GRDC to execute this role with confidence, a sense of purpose and determination. To this end, there are many examples of GRDC-supported programs excelling relative to those being conducted elsewhere around the world. With an annual investment of some $124 million, across a diverse portfolio of activities, there are strong grounds for being optimistic about future innovations that will be delivered to the industry in this decade and the next.