GRDC managing director Steve Jefferies kicked off the 2019 Grains Research Updates in Perth this week by giving those in the room a run down on some of the investments GRDC would be making in the WA space in the next five years.
“Growers are saying to us we need more transformational impact, you look back at where investments in the past have focused on and, primarily, it is on current and proven technologies with a very Australian expertise focus,” Mr Jefferies said.
“We are going back to the drawing board, looking hard at how we can be transformational.
“We will be global and cutting edge.
“From a global point of view, we are looking at global partnerships with life science companies to look for chemistry that will protect our crop.
“When it comes to genetics, we are going to go back to basics, back to fundamentals and going to go blue sky, by trying to attract the best in the world and bring them here to work on our toughest issues.
“Soil constraints is a real issue here in WA and WA is unique that it has more things that limit the uptake of water into the soil, the amount of water being able to be held by soil and how easy it is to extract that water from the soil.
“Recently we had the $42 million announcement to fund the next big step in soil amelioration research, to untap the huge potential of WA farming systems, by releasing the potential of WA soils.”
Mr Jefferies said it was critical for the WA grain industry to have a high value pulse in the farming system.
“This is needed for sustainability and profitability of farming systems,” he said.
“There are a number of crops we can focus on, but I want to talk about chickpeas.
“We believe chickpeas has the greatest potential over the largest area of expansion in WA.
“There is not really a chickpea industry in WA due in main to the acid soils.
“This is a serious constraint to chickpeas, as is chilling tolerance, diseases and adaptation.
“So what can we do about these constraints, we need to identify genetics that improve these constraints.
“To that end, GRDC has entered into a global partnership with 29 different institutions covering 12 different countries, which is led by the University of California with the GRDC lead through CSIRO in Perth.
“We know wheat is the most resilient crop we grow and we can tap back into wild genetics of wheat.
“We believe we can do the same with chickpeas and are mining traits from wild chickpeas to assist with adaption of chickpeas in WA.
“Through this global partnership, CSIRO took a narrow political opportunity, to go into Turkey and collect wild chickpea lines.
“As part of that process we have set up a national collaboration of investments across six institutions to bring that germplasm into Australia and mine it to benefit Australian and WA growers.
“Through this partnership we look at where chickpeas are grown successfully and where there are also acid soils and we found that in Ethiopia.
“So we are now in the process of negotiating an agreement with the University of California and a partner in Ethiopia to bring chickpeas with acid soil adaption into WA.”
Mr Jefferies said similar work was being carried out around chilling tolerance and disease issues.
“We think we can do it better by accessing global germplasm,” he said.
“We need genetic diversity and this international partnership is bringing in new lines and evaluating them.
“We are going to ensure that the breeding program and all associated investments that go with it are performing at international best practice, going to be ensuring that we are the best in the game.”
See more stories from this year’s Grains Research Updates in next week’s Farm Weekly.