Crop breeders looking years ahead for next big breakthrough

The next big seed fad will arrive at a farm in a bag ready for planting into the ground with sometimes little understanding of the journey the seed has experienced

This winter harvest was a near record prior to ravages of rain and flooding but the hard work to maintain crop seed quality will continue without interruption – image: ACB

As this near record winter grain harvest gets into full swing, held up by the ravages of rain and floods, and billed as one of the most dramatic seasons ever witnessed and with much of our grain going to world markets for the first time once coveted by war-torn Ukraine, there is also another important group going about their business as usual.

In contrast to the front-line harvest, teams across the country are quietly assessing the most promising breeding lines from current paddock trials, while also monitoring seed production from previous trials to prepare for the next stages of development.

Chair of Australian Crop Breeders Tress Walmsley points out it’s a hectic but important time of the year for seed breeders as well. “Creating a new seed variety takes 10 years on average,” Tress explained.

“Like growers, we must be ready to take advantage of seasonal conditions and ensure we’re doing everything we can to push forward our breeding activities, otherwise it can be very hard to make up any lost time or opportunities.

“The planning, effort and timelines involved can be intricate. It’s critical we get the many elements right, so we continue to deliver high performing varieties that meet growers’ needs.”

R&D paddock trials will produce the results required to keep local growers on the cutting edge of yield and quality – image: ACB

Australian Crop Breeders represents public and private organisations that generate new varieties of wheat, barley, canola, pulse, oat and other grains for local growers.

In the late 1990s, funding for crop breeding shifted from public programs to a private breeding structure, and this saw the introduction of Plant Breeder’s Rights with End Point Royalties (EPRs).

The EPR for each variety is a set amount per tonne of grain harvested, and that levy is what the grower pays when the crop is sold or used as feed. Seed retained for sowing next season is not included in the calculations.

This link between yield and the EPR amount payable has the purpose of providing better breeding outcomes by ensuring both the grower and breeder benefit.

EPRs are something all grain growers are aware of Tess Walmsley points out, “But there is a lot of misunderstanding about how they work and why they are essential.

“Creating and commercialising a new variety takes a long time, and the EPR system is almost the only way we fund development,” Tess explained.

At the other end of the scale – Chair of Australian Crop Breeders Tress Walmsley samples the final result where it matters – in the taste and nutrition value – image: ACB

“There are a couple of exceptions with canola and pulses, but EPR is critically important for funding Australian-based, targeted breeding operations that develop varieties to suit our conditions and local and international markets.

“With more than 90% of our national wheat and barley deliveries from EPR-based varieties, it is clear that we are meeting grower expectations for in-paddock performance as well as addressing end-user market needs.

“ACB members have delivered a seven times greater improvement in genetic gain for APH wheat varieties, for example, since the shift to private breeding.

“These kinds of results demonstrate the value we continue to deliver to the local grain sector.

Tess Walmsley encourages growers to complete their Harvest Declaration forms accurately, and quickly, “We know the process this year has not been ideal, but we encourage growers to persevere. It’s the best way they can ensure the right crop varieties continue to be developed and released.

“All our members have teams ready to assist growers with their Declarations – they just need get in touch and we will do all we can to help,” Tess added.

EPR rates and breeder contact information is available from the Variety Central website.

About Australian Crop Breeders

Australian Crop Breeders (ACB) is the peak body representing public and private organisations that generate new varieties for broadacre crop growers.

ACB works with other industry bodies to support and promote the industry and maximise its international competitiveness. It provides leadership to breeding research and development strategy, the National Variety Trial system and End Point Royalty collection for Plant Breeder’s Rights varieties.

Members are actively involved in breeding bread wheat, barley, canola, sorghum, oats, durum, lentils and lupins, see more at: australiancropbreeders.com.au