Oat breeding becomes a joint endeavour with a $11.5 million funding boost

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It could be seen as a golden era for oats as hard cash is ploughed into releasing more varieties for milling and for stock feed

Government Research and Development Centres (RDCs) and Intergrain get together on this $11.5 million* investment to propel oats into the growing ‘super food’ market – photo GRDC

The National Oat Breeding Program has cash being injected from several bodies over the next five years, that will propel oats into a new era under the leadership of commercial breeding company, InterGrain.

InterGrain has been trusted with the funds, and all up there will be $11.5 million* sunk into this commercial breeding program that is expected to provide new varieties for milling and hay oats for stock feed, developed side-by-side.

The program has at its disposal a broad genetic base as this is seen as necessary to respond to the changing needs of local growers for both the domestic market and for exporters.

This program is the only one of its type in the world and builds on research in hay and milling oat breeding by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), a division of the Department of Primary Industries and Regions. 

AgriFutures Australia Managing Director John Harvey acknowledged SARDI’s leadership and importantly the commitment, and achievements of the breeding and technical staff.

“Firstly, I would like to acknowledge SARDI’s research in oat breeding for more than 25 years, and particularly for its leadership of the National Program since 2003.

“Under SARDI’s leadership, the Program has grown and continued to deliver high-quality grade hay and milling oat varieties for growers.”

“AgriFutures looks forward to working with the GRDC and InterGrain, building on the foundation of SARDI’s research and continuing to grow and maintain Australia’s competitive advantage into the future.”

GRDC Managing Director, Anthony Williams, said the outcome was a good example of how growers, through their Research Development Corporations, would be rewarded for upfront risk and investment. 

“As significant cereal breeding expertise and capacity lies in the private sector, it’s fantastic that the oats industry has developed to the point where commercial breeding investment has been attracted,” said Mr Williams.

“This is how commercialisation should work between RDCs and industry. The future looks very bright for oats in the growing ‘super food’ market.”

Following a competitive tender process, InterGrain was selected to lead the Program as it transitions to a full commercial model by 2025.

As one of the leaders in cereal breeding in Australia, InterGrain has extensive experience in transferring public breeding programs into the commercial sector and developing them into commercially focused breeding programs.

The company has identified priority activities in the short, medium and longer-term, to build a best practice oat breeding program and deliver benefits to hay and milling oat growers. 

Short term
• Increasing population sizes and selection intensity
• Reduced time for variety development cycle (using speed breeding and summer   
• Improved seed delivery pipeline 

Medium term
• Develop and apply genomic selection methods
• High throughput phenotyping of hay yield and quality

Longer term
• Widen the oat gene pool

Strong engagement with the grain and hay value chains has been, and will continue to be, a key strength of the program as it enters a new era.

This is critical to ensure the retention of markets and growth opportunities for Australian milling and hay oats globally and in the domestic marketplace.

At the National Oats Breeding Program launch from left to right, Tress Walmsley, Chief Executive Officer, InterGrain,  Anthony Williams, Managing Director, GRDC, Alannah MacTiernan, Minister for Agriculture and Food

South Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development David Basham said, “Investing in grains research to boost productivity and farm profits is important to the Marshall Liberal Government.”

“Research and development is a key component of the South Australian Grain Industry Blueprint, which aims to boost the sector to $6 billion by 2030.”

“The South Australian Research and Development Institute is a proven leader in oat breeding with the development and release of 17 oat varieties, including eight hay varieties, over the past 20 years.”

“These new oat varieties represent more than 80 per cent of the export hay produced, and nine milling varieties representing over 90 percent of milling oats. This includes the recent releases of Bilby and Koorabup,” said Minister Basham. 

InterGrain’s strengths lie in variety breeding and market development, both in the domestic and international marketplace. InterGrain have strong research linkages across Australia and 40 research sites spread across the country, with over 200,000 field plots annually. 

InterGrain Chief Executive Officer Tresslyn Walmsley said, “We are excited to take the baton and lead the National Oat Breeding Program.

“We will work closely with SARDI over the coming 12-18 months as we transition the program to a commercial model and build on SARDI’s foundation research.” 

“InterGrain brings new technologies to the National Oat Breeding Program, such as technology to enable genomic oat breeding at a very low cost.

“InterGrain has developed a genomics platform with high SNP call rates and imputation for its barley and wheat program and will look to create a similar genomics tools to create a game changing asset for oat breeding.”

“We are committed to continuing to work with industry to ensure national breeding targets are prioritised, on-farm productivity is increased, and market share, domestically and globally, continues to grow,” said Ms Walmsley.

The National Oat Breeding Program will be led by InterGrain, through funding from AgriFutures Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, and supported by the Government of South Australia and the Western Australian Government. The $11.5 million* investment includes a joint contribution of $5.4 million from AgriFutures Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation as well as $5.4 million from InterGrain and $750,000 from the Western Australian Agriculture Authority.