Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 094 September-October 2011 - North
Maize SEPTEMBER -- OCTOBER 2011 GROUND COVER 22 GM-FREE MAIZE BOLSTERS EXPORT DEMAND Asian niche markets stand to provide premium opportunities for maize growers By Catherine Norwood n Lucrative starch food markets in Japan and South Korea could provide high- value niche markets for Australian maize growers, according to Australian Maize Association president Keith Pickmere. Australia's GM-free status for this crop will be a crucial factor in developing these markets, says Mr Pickmere, who recently met with importers, buyers, millers and processors in the two Asian nations as part of a GRDC-sponsored industry delegation. Demand for GM-free maize is rising in both Japan and South Korea. However, both countries import most of their maize from the US and Brazil where 90 per cent of maize comes from GM varieties. Mr Pickmere says this is of great concern to Asian buyers. "At the moment Australia, Serbia and Hungary are the only countries confidently providing GM-free maize," he says. Mr Pickmere says while the quality of Australian maize is well regarded in Asia, it needs to be competitive with the cost of US maize. The rise in US corn prices has helped to make Australian maize more competitive, although the gains have been offset by the high value of the Australian dollar. Tony Cogswell, managing director of Australia's largest maize trader and exporter Lachlan Commodities, says national maize production varies from 380,000 to 520,000 tonnes, depending on water availability. A large portion of this crop is grown under irrigation in the NSW Riverina, with equal quantities coming from rain-fed and irrigated systems in northern NSW and Queensland. "Export demand is growing and the GM factor is huge," says Mr Cogswell, who also participated in the Australian Maize Association tour. Annual demand for GM-free, identity-preserved maize in Japan and South Korea totals two million tonnes and Keith Pickmere Dr Solomon Fekybelu from the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) AFRICAN INFLUENCE IN MAIZE IMPROVEMENTS Pre-breeding research is examining maize germplasm from overseas for new varieties to increase production for high-value export markets By Catherine Norwood n Drought tolerance, disease resistance and yield top the priorities list for researchers assessing maize germplasm to improve varieties better suited to Australian tropical and subtropical farming systems. The long-term aim of the research is to increase maize production by improving crop reliability, which would help Australian growers to supply expanding, GM-free markets in Japan and South Korea. Dr Solomon Fekybelu from the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) is leading the five-year GRDC-funded pre-breeding program. Dr Fekybelu says growers who produce maize as a summer crop often see it as unreliable and high risk, particularly in drier environments. "But the 'stay green' characteristic, or delayed leaf senescence, allows plants to conserve moisture for use after flowering. It then keeps producing carbohydrates to fill out the grain. "This is another trait we are looking at, along with the ability to respond to seasonal variability and yield increases in response to soil moisture." An example of this attribute in maize is the ability to produce twin cobs when conditions allow. Germplasm is being evaluated both under managed stress and field conditions through the pre-breeding work. Under managed stress conditions, irrigation is stopped three weeks prior to flowering and germplasm with better flowering synchronisation is selected for subsequent trials. Planting times for field trials are adjusted to coincide with peak summer heat so that the germplasm is exposed to heat and drought stress. The most promising genotypes are used in a recurrent selection process and the best yielding lines become part of a pedigree selection program. Dr Fekybelu says it takes three to four generations of plants to fix selected traits into new lines and release the germplasm as parental lines for use by seed companies to produce commercial hybrids. "Grain quality is also a consideration -- kernel size and shape, kernel hardness and colour are visually evaluated to identify genotypes suitable for various industrial processes," he says. Collaborating with commercial partners -- Pacific Seeds, Pioneer Seeds and HSR -- is expected to accelerate the development of new hybrid varieties for growers. Dr Fekybelu expects the trials established in 2009 to start providing germplasm for development by its commercial partners in spring 2012. □ GRDC Research Code DAQ00155 More information: Dr Solomon Fekybelu, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.grdc.com.au/DAQ00155 1.3 million tonnes, respectively. However, in the past decade, Australian exports have ranged from 3000t (during widespread drought) to 42,000t, and the average for the past five years is about 35,000t. He says growers could take advantage of significant untapped potential in Asian markets -- some buyers are already paying a US$40/t to US$60/t premium for Australian maize. The recent delegation highlighted the value of dealing with international markets on an industry-to-industry basis, rather than as individual businesses, to avoid discussion limited to "price per tonne". Mr Pickmere says a stronger industry approach will also help to coordinate local efforts to improve the infrastructure needed to advance export markets. These changes include consolidating growing regions, improving supply chain logistics, and increasing both the availability of food-grade containers for export and bulk loading facilities with the capacity to handle maize segregations. "We want to encourage new growers, increase the quantities and reliability of maize production so that we can target higher-quality, niche markets, and be more competitive on price," Mr Pickmere says. □ GRDC Research Code DAQ00155 More information: Keith Pickmere, email@example.com; www.grdc.com.au/DAQ00155 In tropical areas with high rainfall, such as the Atherton Tablelands, various leaf and ear diseases are the main yield-limiting factors in maize. For example, polysora rust may reduce yield by half when infection is severe. In drier, subtropical regions, drought and heat stress are the major constraints that cause yields to vary between seasons and locations. Yield losses can reach up to 80 per cent depending on the timing and severity of these stresses. The core plant populations used in the breeding program have been synthesised using germplasm from the US, South America and Africa. Dr Fekybelu says the African germplasm is particularly promising, as it has been sourced from areas that closely resemble Australian conditions and are likely to quickly adapt. The DEEDI trials use only yellow maize germplasm, but white maize is more widely grown as the preferred choice for human consumption in Africa. The DEEDI maize pre-breeding program is also contributing to a project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). This project, 'Sustainable intensification of maize--legume cropping systems for food security in Eastern and Southern Africa' (or SIMLESA), also allows researchers access to the latest disease-resistant and drought-tolerant germplasm from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), based in Mexico. Yields in Australia's tropical regions regularly average 7t/ha and can reach more than 12t/ha. Further south, variations range from 1t/ha to 10t/ha depending on rainfall, starting soil moisture and heat stress. The DEEDI project is aiming for a five per cent yield improvement over existing varieties with each new generation of plants being grown at trial sites. Dr Fekybelu says this objective has been achieved in the first two years, with some lines showing a 20 per cent increase in yield. The project includes trials in northern and southern Queensland at Atherton, Kairi, Kingaroy, Hermitage and Goondiwindi, and another trial site is planned at Emerald in central Queensland. The northern tropical research aims to develop germplasm that combines improved yield potential and resistance to major tropical diseases, such as leaf blight and polysora rust. To test resistance, maize varieties with germplasm susceptible to disease are planted around the trials. The latest commercial varieties are then used to gauge the effectiveness of combining improved disease resistance and yield potential. The southern subtropical research targets traits that help plants deal with the stresses of moisture and heat. Dr Fekybelu says high temperatures in mid-summer can cause tassel blast, which reduces pollen viability. Drought stress also results in delayed silk appearance, causing poor flowering synchronisation. Selection for better flowering synchronisation enhances seed set. "In dryland conditions, maize also suffers from terminal stress: when the crop runs out of moisture, it aborts itself and does not set seed.
Ground Cover 095 November-December 2011 - North
Ground Cover 093 July-August 2011 - North