WA is set to become a world leader in plant breeding technology following the signing of a historical agreement with the Zhejiang University in China.
The agreement was signed when Agriculture Minister Kim Chance visited China late last year and looks set to revolutionise cereal grain growing in this state.
Mr Chance said the agreement was one of the most significant developments he had overseen in his time as Agriculture Minister.
“This agreement has enormous potential for WA agriculture,” he said.
“It offers great hope to both Australian and Chinese farmers as a means of adapting to climate change, soil acidity and developing functional foods with better health outcomes.
“The majority of grain produced globally is related to a gene pool established in the Iraq region thousands of years ago and cereal genetics used in North America, Russia, Africa and certain Asian countries have all come from that gene pool.
“The cereal or grass gene pool that exists in continental East Asia is massively bigger and one Australia has never had access to previously.
“Currently there is no wheat grown in WA that has any link to Chinese genetics.”
Work is already under way between the Agriculture Department and Zhejiang, which is also the headquarters of the China National Barley Research Centre, on breeding barley varieties with better acid soil tolerance for WA.
The aim of the project is to identify and develop new germplasm to help breed the next generation of barley varieties which have better acid soil tolerance. The technology is equally applicable to other cereal crops including wheat.
Mr Chance said even though the first crop varieties from the agreement could be available to WA farmers within two to three years, he believed the project would still be developing new varieties in 50 or 100 years.
“If you think about what has been done with small gene pool we have been using up to now, imagine the potential that could be gained from such a huge gene pool in the future,” he said.
“I must stress, however, that the agreement does not give us access to whole Chinese gene pool, the arrangement is on a project by project basis and provides access to any part of that gene pool which we believe might be mutually beneficial.
“An example of what we now have access to are strains of grass that can withstand -45o heat and still set viable seed or have the capacity to extremely prolonged droughts.”