Shenton leaves growers in the lurch

30 Mar, 2005 08:45 PM
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WA grain growers who received an Australian Premium White (APW) classification for GBA Shenton wheat last year will have to bin it as feed for the 05-06 harvest.

The Shenton wheat, developed by Grain Biotech Australia (GBA) and commercialised by PlantTech, ran into problems last year when more concerns were raised about late maturity alpha-amylase (LMA) in the variety.

LMA is a measure of undesirable enzyme activity in harvested grain which reduces baking quality, and is bought on by a cold period or changes of temperature during grain fill.

In 2002 the University of Adelaide tested Shenton for LMA, but AWB requested GBA conduct more tests to confirm results from the 2002 tests.

More tests were conducted in 2004, during which time AWB approved an APW grading for Shenton, pending the results.

But the wheat was binned as feed.

In February GBA forwarded the new test data to AWB's National Pool Variety Classification panel, which also looked at 46 grower samples.

The panel found there was still concerns about expression of LMA in Shenton, and therefore could not give it an APW classification.

GBA general manager Dr Paul Fox said the company was recommending that affected growers consider their options on Shenton, which was mainly developed for WA.

"We are doubtful it (Shenton) will get milling grade for 05-06," Mr Fox said.

He said about 600t of Shenton was sold in WA last year, and that testing for LMA was still not a precise science.

He said standards for testing in general were moving to minimum tolerance.

"I think we acknowledge we are on a very steep learning curve with LMA," he said.

"Unfortunately we do not have a good test for it.

"It is the wrong variety at the wrong time.

"We are hopeful one day researchers will find a clear molecular marker that breeding companies can use.

"We are trying to draw sharp lines with a blunt instrument, and there is quite a bit of error and arbitrariness in the whole business."

Mr Fox said this approach could also put industry at risk as there could be more to be gained from the Shenton variety than lost through the effects of LMA.

"Bulk handlers really don't take much pain in this process," he said.

AWB spokesman Ryan McKinlay said AWB had been working through the issue with GBA for more than 12 months and believed both sides acknowledged there was insufficient data to classify the Shenton variety for this season.

"We have kept relevant growers advised of these developments," he said.

"AWB continues to caution all breeders about the sale of varieties to growers before a final classification decision is made."

Mr McKinlay said the panel's role was to assess the quality of varieties and their suitability for respective wheat grades.

"LMA represents a significant quality defect, and as such, must be taken into consideration in the classification process," he said.

South Meckering grower Guy Kelly said that when he bought the Shenton seed he was told it would be classified as Australian Premium White (APW) or a hard wheat classification.

"But it didn't get anywhere near it," he said.

"When the initial tests were done they said it was fine and that's why I bought it - then another test was carried out."

Mr Kelly said he had to find a replacement for the Shenton seed saved from last year's crop.

"We have gone to the trouble of bulking up seed and we have lost a year's production," he said.

"We have not got anything to replace it with.

"They (GBA) should not release a variety until it comes up to scratch."

Mr Kelly said even if Shenton, which cost him $1200/tonne, was downgraded to feed this year he would still have to pay $3/t in end point royalties (EPR).

He said the Shenton variety, which he bought due to its stripe rust resistance, had performed better than Bonnie Rock which was an AWB preferred variety for his zone.

"It went extremely well, I was quite happy with it," he said.

"We grew Bonnie Rock last year and we had to grade it all.

Mr Kelly is also concerned that AWB, which has plant breeding interests, is also involved in classifying wheat.

He said AWB might only want to promote its own varieties as preferred varieties.

"They could snub everything else that comes up," he said.

He said EPR revenue would be $75m a year assuming a 25mt crop nationally with everybody paying $3t, as he did.

At the time of writing PlantTech was unavailable for comment.

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