Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 047 November-December 2003 - North
3 NOVEMBER 2003 NEWS Gene 'clearing house' for robust crops By BRAD COLLIS The development of superior crop varieties using packages of genetic traits that can be customised to resolve a range of plant defects simultaneously is the target of a new campaign to bring plant breeders and germplasm researchers closer together. Concerned by the slow rate both in Australia and overseas at which germplasm advances are finding their way into local plant breeding programs, the GRDC is establishing a special 'clearing house' so the latest germplasm from Australian and international laboratories can be accessed by all plant breeders. The development of more robust varieties was being too limited by breeders not taking full advantage of the germplasm developments that science had been delivering, according to the GRDC's former manager for Winter Cereal Improvement, Dr Ross Gilmour. "Breeding programs are responsible for delivering new varieties with packages of traits, but clearly they are not sourcing from all the germplasm programs that exist," he said. "The sourcing of new genetic traits tends to be confined to breeders' own organisations rather than the wider range of research outputs that are available. "In the meantime, growers are losing production and income through the constraints that we all know well -- hostile soils, disease susceptibility, grain quality defects. "Yet we also know the genetic tolerance and resistance to these factors. However, delivering this to the grain industry through improved varieties seems to be problematic." Dr Gilmour cited pre-harvest sprouting as an example: "The genetic tolerance to pre-harvest sprouting was identified 15 to 20 years ago, yet we still don't have pre- harvest sprouting tolerant varieties. "We have numerous germplasm- development programs, but for one reason or another the breeding programs seem to be having trouble capturing the research outputs." To bridge this divide between germplasm research and plant breeding, the GRDC is establishing the Germplasm Development The 2003 GRDC Neighbourhood Grower Group Awards acknowledge the pivotal role that small neighbourhood groups play in rural communities. The awards recognise lifelong learning practices, preparedness for change and the testing of new ideas. The prizes are $4000 for state winners plus an additional $4000 for the national winner. Applications close on 31 January 2004 (details and entry form, page 16). The grains industry is served by more than 400 grower groups in all states of Australia. Some of them exchange technical information, others act as marketing vehicles, some facilitate trials and some meet as part of a professional development program. Neighbourhood grain grower groups are led by growers, agency staff, consultants and agribusiness staff. Some of them have grown to become significant regional grower groups or farming systems groups. Others retain their original core intent of being a cropping discussion group. The GRDC's support for grower groups extends from the TOPCROP and crop monitoring era to its current support for coordinators to provide the linkages that enable growers to meet with other groups, join professional development opportunities or engage in farm-based research. All of these activities contribute to a culture of lifelong learning and receptiveness to change. They lie at the heart of a dynamic industry. The GRDC's group awards honour these attributes. Pages 15 to 17: special report on grower groups Initiative. It will be a linkage project in which a single 'clearing house' of results from germplasm research will be pooled for use by all breeding programs. Dr Gilmour said the objective was to package the outputs from germplasm projects, and deliver early-generation populations carrying multiple traits to breeding programs for further development into actual varieties. "So in the case of barley, for example, you might take frost-tolerant genes out of a project being done by the University of Adelaide, put it with a pre- harvest sprouting tolerance project by the Department of Agriculture in WA, and with a low nitrogen content project at Agriculture Victoria," he said. "These are the types of creative solutions to various production constraints and quality defects that we need to start developing -- frost tolerance combined with waterlogging tolerance and salinity tolerance; or blackpoint tolerance with pre-harvest sprouting resistance, and zero late maturing amylases. "So the idea of this clearing house will be to provide not only specific germplasm technologies, but also packages of technologies because delivering outcomes to the grain industry is what it's all about. "So no matter who you are -- a university, a small private research organisation in a regional centre, or a CSIRO -- you can engage with the clearing house, which will provide a pathway that delivers your germplasm research into an outcome for the industry." Dr Gilmour said the germplasm initiative would also become a conduit into Australia for germplasm developed overseas by organisations such as CIMMYT. "We already have a project at the Vavilov Institute in Russia that is characterising a certain set of wheat lines for abiotic stress tolerances such as for salinity. Clearly the linkage project would pick up on the best of that material and provide a pathway to further development in Australia for conditions here." 'The idea of this clearing house will be to provide not only specific germplasm technologies, but packages of technologies, because delivering outcomes to the grains industry is what it's all about.' -- Dr Ross Gilmour The Grains Council of Australia (GCA) has commissioned a far-reaching study to establish a blueprint for the grains industry's planning and management over the next 10 to 15 years. The 'Grain Industry Strategic Planning Project', supported by the GRDC, will map out the industry's medium-term direction, and the key issues to be managed. GCA president, Mr Keith Perrett, says the plan will position the industry to be master of its own destiny and respond to the likely shifts in long-term markets as well as potential environmental constraints. The strategic plan will be undertaken by consultants Pocknee Benjamin and Associates. It will cover key issues facing the industry's environmental and economic sustainability, and will identify research priorities based on changing world and domestic conditions. Mr Perrett says some of the anticipated challenges ahead of the industry might be 15 or more years away, but would need astute forward planning so that growers' interests can be addressed. "There are environmental issues that have the potential to constrain the industry's development. These need to be considered now," he says. "We're also looking at possible shifts in trade, in terms of the markets and uses for the grains we now produce. We're likely to be looking increasingly towards Asian markets and new products there, as some of the former Soviet republics around the Black Sea increase production and penetration into other markets." Mr Perrett says the consultants selected for the job had been charged with objectively and independently examining the changes, pressures and issues facing all grains produced in Australia. The terms of reference are to: articulate a vision for the grains industry for the next 10-15 years -- how to improve on its international success and maximise grower returns; examine the industry's agronomic and economic sustainability, with alternative scenario planning as necessary; determine the structure, function and operation of Australia's grains industry arrangements, including marketing and research. For more information: Mr Keith Perrett: GCA president, 0419 99 0943 Mr Alan Umbers, GRDC project consultant, 02 6272 5525 Research results from the Mallee Sustainable Farming Systems project are to be available to growers through a series of information brochures titled Farmtalk. The brochures will detail results from the latest research and farming systems trials relevant to the <350mm rainfall region and offer suggestions for practical management applications. The information is intended to be an important information resource for farmer group networks. Farmtalk was launched at the Kerribee Field Day in September by the GRDC's executive manager for Product and Service Delivery, Dr Jan Mahoney, who spoke of the era of knowledge that grain growers are now embracing and the enthusiasm with which grower groups are using information to better position themselves for the future. "Today it's about managing our risks positively; about coping with the two bad years by better managing the eight good years," she said. "This means learning about, and understanding, what is driving the soil and environmental systems that underpin our farms." GRDC RESEARCH CODE MSF1, program 4 For more information: Ms Gill Stewart, extension leader, MSF Inc. 03 5021 9411, email@example.com Information on sustainable farming Strategic plan to map grain industry's future Grower group awards A new era of knowledge: Dr Jan Mahoney.
Ground Cover 048 February-March 2004 - North