A MAJOR initiative to double malting barley production in Australia's cooler, higher rainfall areas is under way in a five-state plant breeding program. The program is being co-ordinated from the University of Tasmania, with key inputs from barley breeders in WA, plus those from SA, Victoria and NSW. Agriculture WA barley breeders Reg Lance and Cheng-Dao Li described the initiative as an exciting project, which offered many benefits to the participating organisations. "We've contributed double haploid resources and marker assisted selection resources to produce barley yellow dwarf virus resistant barleys derived from Franklin and Gairdner," they said. "Additionally, we're evaluating material for malting quality and resistance to disease, especially scald." Spearheading the project is Tasmania-based barley breeder Meixue Zhou, who aims to build on the success of the high-quality malting variety, Franklin. Dr Zhou said the Tasmanian-bred Franklin had been developed for spring sowing conditions, which was not the norm in the mainland states. Consequently, when sown in autumn or winter, it often suffered from waterlogging. As well, its resistance to diseases such as barley leaf scald needed to be improved, as disease pressures in the wetter areas were often significant. Grain size also needed to be improved. "Trials in progress already include crosses between Franklin and the high quality UK variety, Chariot, and the WA variety Gairdner, and Canadian, UK and Japanese high-quality varieties" Dr Zhou said. "Crossbreds using varieties such as Gairdner, which have a Franklin background, are already showing promise in state trials. "Franklin and related lines have performed particularly well in southern WA where there is a large potential area for new varieties adapted to high rainfall, long-season environments. "The potential production of better adapted, high quality, disease resistant malting barley cultivars in the higher rainfall areas could be up to 500,000 tonnes, of which at least half could be in WA. "A collaborative project with China may be set up, aimed at improving the tolerance of barley to acidity and waterlogging, which are common problems in high rainfall areas." Dr Zhou said both traditional and contemporary plant breeding techniques, including molecular marker selection processes, were being used in the project ,which was supported by growers and the Federal Government through the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). Wayne Obst, GRDC Western Regional Panel member responsible for the barley processing quality and barley for market sub-programs, said the project was of great significance for those farming acidic soils and the higher rainfall areas of WA's Great Southern. "In recent years, we've seen the growing of wheat and other crops, including barley, expand in these areas which have generally only been used for grazing," he said. "However, with the advent of modified farming practices including raised bed cropping, it's now feasible to produce high yielding, high quality grain and we hope malting barley production will expand as new and better adapted varieties are produced for these areas. "Dr Zhou's appointment gives impetus to this goal and he also brings with him significant international links."