Investment to strengthen role of pulses

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PBA board member and GRDC senior manager, breeding programs Brondwen MacLean says improved PBA varieties are providing growers with additional options to create more sustainable crop rotations. PHOTO: Brad Collis

The partner agencies in Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA) have emphasised their confidence in the direction the pulse industry is taking with a commitment to invest about $11.8 million a year in PBA breeding programs over the next five years.

PBA chairman Mark Sweetingham of the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA), says the eight PBA partners are keen to see pulses expanding to more than 15 per cent of Australia’s broadacre cropping program.

He says pulses have become an essential element in the creation of sustainable farming systems across Australia. They provide disease breaks for cereal crops, broaden weed-control options, reduce reliance on artificial fertilisers and assist with diversifying growers’ production and marketing opportunities.

PBA is an unincorporated joint venture between:

  • Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI); 
  • South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI);
  • Queensland Primary Industries and Fisheries (QPI&F) part of the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI);
  • New South Wales DPI;
  • Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA);
  • University of Adelaide;
  • Pulse Australia; and
  • GRDC.

PBA has operated since 2006 and develops improved lentil, chickpea, faba bean, lupin and field pea varieties. Since 2006 PBA has released 16 varieties – four chickpeas, two faba beans, five lentils, four field peas and a lupin.

“These varieties include a range of benefits and features over previous benchmark varieties, including higher yield, better disease resistance, better quality attributes and agronomic characteristics,” Dr Sweetingham says. “But we can do – and will do – more to ensure we reach or indeed exceed our targets.”

PBA board member and GRDC senior manager breeding programs Brondwen MacLean says improved PBA varieties are providing growers in all cropping regions with more options to expand the use of pulses to create more sustainable crop rotations.

Ms MacLean says future PBA releases are well in hand, with a pipeline of varieties being moved through the breeding programs. “Variety releases targeted to established pulse-growing regions, and areas with more challenging rainfall and soil conditions, are planned. Breeding and driving the adoption of improved varieties for Australia is the key challenge for PBA over the next five years.”

PBA chickpea breeder Dr Kristy Hobson (NSW DPI) says all the PBA breeding programs have sharpened their focus for this next phase and growers should start to see the delivery of varieties that incorporate improvements in a number of key traits and that are better able to deliver consistent results in their target environments.

A central element of PBA is that it brings together the capabilities and skills of all its agency partners.

For example, SARDI’s PBA board member Dr Andrew Pointon notes that while SARDI does not lead a breeding program it conducts PBA’s field pea, faba bean, lentil, chickpea and lupin field evaluation and screening in South Australia. This is vital in ensuring the successful development of varieties suitable not only to SA, but also across Australia.

Also, the long-term viability of the PBA breeding programs relies on the discovery and delivery of traits and genes to improve current production, expand the production area and meet future demands created by climate, practice or pathogen change. SARDI’s Dr Phil Davies coordinates a suite of pulse germplasm enhancement projects working on trait discovery, development of specific trait-screening methodologies and introgression of traits into adapted breeding lines for use by the PBA breeding programs. Dr Davies works closely with the PBA breeders through his position on the PBA Coordination Group.

He says coordination of these activities across the pulses, with linkages to the breeding programs, ensures that appropriate traits are delivered to the breeding programs.

“In the new phase of PBA we will be holding a pulse breeding conference possibly every three years,” Dr Davies says. “Planning is underway for our first conference in 2013 to bring together both Australian and key international researchers working on improving pulses.”

Pulses have emerged as an importnatn component of broadacre cropping and have attracted a renewed investment commitment. PHOTO: Clarisa Collis

PBA coordinator Fleur Winter says that while advanced traits and tools are important to breeding, so too is the identification of production challenges and future market requirements. Ms Winter says PBA will continue to strengthen its domestic and international marketing relationships, develop grower feedback loops and work closely with partner agencies to encourage the effective use of PBA varieties in farming systems.

To meet its vision of pulses expanding to more than 15 per cent of the cropping area, Ms Winter says PBA will be looking to maximise the adoption of its new varieties. The PBA release advisory groups (RAGs) help by critically reviewing varieties before release to ensure only those that will provide enhanced benefit to growers make it to market.

Strong relationships with PBA’s commercial partners ensure new pulse varieties are delivered as quickly as possible to growers.  Commercial partner co-investment helps to fast-track varieties to commercial release by allowing a large number of breeding lines to be multiplied earlier in the breeding process.

A variety brochure is released with each new PBA variety to provide information about appropriate agronomic, disease management and disease ratings. This information is compiled from agronomic and disease management projects funded by the GRDC, combined with yield data from variety trials conducted by both PBA and the National Variety Trials (NVT). Copies of the variety brochures are available on the PBA webpage (

Related Features: Quality reputation starting to bite; Pulse demand rising but challenges remain

GRDC Research Codes DAN00151, DAV00118, DAV00119, DAW00181, UA00127, DAS00120

More information:

Brondwen MacLean,
02 6166 4500;

Fleur Winter,
07 4639 3634, 0417 926 033,;

PBA YouTube links,,

GRDC Project Code DAN00151, DAV00118,

Region National, North, South, West