Hopes high for breeding nodes

The state of research into barley breeding and industry development was profiled at the 12th Australian Barley Technical Symposium in Hobart in September. Rebecca Thyer and Gio Braidotti report

One of the most significant recent developments in Australia"s barley industry - the creation of a coordinated national breeding program under a new body, Barley Breeding Australia - is expected to speed the release of improved varieties and lift Australia"s international competitiveness.

Breeders say the new system will improve the development of malting and feed varieties for different parts of the grain belt, while eliminating duplication or overlap in resources. Barley Breeding Australia will oversee three barley breeding nodes covering the northern, southern and western cropping zones.

Breeder Dr Jason Eglinton, of the University of Adelaide, who leads the southern node and will also chair the nodes" management committee, says the change is common sense. "Before we decided on three eco-geographic nodes we had six state-based breeding programs, and while we collaborated, there was also a degree of competition in variety release and market share," he says. "This national program will allow a more coordinated mechanism for variety release, helping to get commercial releases out there as quickly as possible, while eliminating duplication."

The new system is supported by the GRDC, the Department of Agriculture WA (DAWA), the SA Research and Development Institute (SARDI), the NSW and Victorian Departments of Primary Industries (DPI), the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPI&F) and the University of Adelaide.

DAWA"s Dr Reg Lance heads the western node, QDPI&F"s Dr David Poulsen the northern node, and Victorian DPI"s David Moody will coordinate the introduction, evaluation and introgression of novel genes and traits into all three breeding nodes.

The three nodes each have targeted ecogeographic goals. For example, the WA node is responsible for neutral-to-acidic soils in the medium- to high-rainfall zone. "These conditions are also found in eastern NSW and southern and north-eastern Victoria, so that node will be doing work that is also important to those areas too.

"Likewise, the southern node will be responsible for alkaline-to-neutral soil in the low- to medium-rainfall zone. This concerns the bulk of SA, but also northwestern Victoria and western NSW."

Dr Eglinton says the western and southern node will concentrate more on malting varieties, while the northern node will have a stronger emphasis on feed-barley development to support growth in that market.

Dr Poulsen says the huge demand for feed in the north prompted northern breeding institutes to concentrate more on breeding feed barley. "The warm northern environment is ideally suited to raising cattle and the feedlot industry is predicted to grow by about seven per cent annually over the next few years.

"Plus, total demands for feed grains are not being met - currently we meet them every two in three years - mainly because of drought. So, essentially, we need to breed varieties that increase yields and improve disease resistance, but ensure quality remains high."

The northern node will also concentrate on malting barley varieties. "Malting barley produced in the north is predominantly for domestic brewers," says Dr Poulsen. "And while a quarter of the grain produced in the north goes into breweries, about half the region has to grow malting varieties to meet that industry"s exacting demands."

Dr Eglinton says "rubbing out state borders and building on sensible ecogeographic borders" will lead to a more practical and targeted approach to breeding.

Mr Moody agrees saying that fast-tracking novel genes into breeding programs is essential for Australia to be an international leader, rather than follower, in barley breeding.

"In the past, the use of novel genes in breeding programs has been a diffuse and uncoordinated effort, resulting in 15 to 25 years between gene discovery and deployment in new cultivars. The new approach will ensure the full commercial exploitation of the large investment in the gene discovery area currently made by the GRDC and its research organisation partners."

A joint approach to breeding also makes sense in terms of scale. Australia"s barley industry produces about 6.5 million tonnes of crop annually and is supported through $6.5 million of GRDC funding.

"It does not make sense to spread research dollars over six breeding organisations, while logistically, there is also a limit to how many varieties the Australian industry can manage and successfully market overseas," Dr Eglinton says. "It"s difficult if there are more than four or five malting varieties being grown in a region because they all need to be stored and delivered separately. Some varieties will naturally fail because of the market structure."

Working together through a "structural alliance" is therefore crucial. "We cannot afford to be competing internally. We need to compete against the EU and Canada, not each other," he says.

For more information: Dr Jason Eglinton, 08 8303 6553, jason.eglinton@adelaide.edu.au; www.grdc.com.au/whats_on/mr/west/ western_region05010.htm

Barley Breeding Australia (BBA) and the new over-arching organisation, Barley Australia, will work together in a quest to double Australia"s 6.6 million-tonne barley harvest by increasing average yields from two tonnes a hectare to 2.6t/ha, and expanding the growing area from 3.3 million ha to more than five million ha by 2020. While working together as a structural alliance, each BBA node will have varying objectives:

Region North