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Chickpeas capitalise on the convergence of science

Growers stand to put more chickpeas into export bunkers around Australia through the commitment of dedicated researchers
Photo: GRDC

There is a sweet point in research and development where the scientific outputs from human endeavour converge to create a step change for an industry. One of those points has been reached for Australian chickpeas.

With much research commitment, supported by GRDC and industry investment, chickpeas now play an important role in Australian farming systems. Used in rotations as a break crop for cereals, fixing soil nitrogen, managing diseases and improving yields of subsequent crops, their benefit is multitude.

As a result, Australian growers produced an average of 825,394 tonnes of chickpea with an export value of $683 million per annum over the last 10 years (2012-2022). This has seen Australia become the largest global exporter of chickpeas.

But the road to this sweet point for Australian chickpeas has not been easy.

Chickpeas arrived in Australia from India in the 1970s and were first supported by NSW Department of Primary Industries’ research. Initially grown for stock feed in drier areas, a shift in the Indian market led to a lucrative human consumption market. Breeding efforts focussed on harvestability and phytophthora root rot resistance, drawing from global germplasm collections. The industry consolidated in the early 1990s despite challenges due to weather conditions, volatile markets and diseases. However, it was decimated in the late 1990s from Ascochyta blight, making recovery difficult even with rapid introduction of varieties from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

GRDC has been instrumental in rebuilding the industry working together with researchers across Australia.

Through extensive industry consultation and drawing on the successful approach of step-wise investments to grow the canola industry over several decades, the following constraints were identified:

  • Limited scale in the breeding program to meet the target opportunities
  • Lack of genetic diversity for Australian breeders and researchers to draw on for valuable traits
  • Chickpea was not adapted to many Australian cropping regions – phenology, temperature (chilling tolerance at reproductive stages and susceptible toheat shock events) and soil toxicities, including acid soils
  • Lack of genetic resistance to important diseases; Ascochyta blight, root lesion nematode and phytophthora root rot.
  • Limited screening and indirect selection platforms to assist both pre-breeding researchers and breeding programs to accelerate genetic gain

These priorities informed GRDC’s strategic plan of interconnected research investments for chickpeas which commenced in 2019, a number of these are showcased in this Groundcover Supplement:

  • A multi-pulse species DNA chip has been developed by Agriculture Victoria Research (AVR) revolutionising pre-breeding and breeding efforts
  • Genetic resources have been accessed through investments with University of Davis California and CSIRO
  • The genetic basis of phenological adaptation is being dissected by a team led by the University of Tasmania
  • Comprehensive resistance screening systems are routinely being used for Ascochyta blight by South Australian Research and Development Institute and AVR
  • Scalable and field relevant screening systems have been deployed for acid-soil tolerance by Murdoch University
  • Reliable methods for chill tolerance screening are being used by WA Department of Primary Industries
  • Chickpea Breeding Australia is generating efficiencies in its breeding programs and capitalising on collaborative efforts of the above mentioned pre-breeding investments.

For Australian growers, this means science is converging to deliver more broadly adapted, robust chickpea varieties with improved disease resistance to expand the region of production whilst providing a high value pulse option in cropping rotations.

More information: Dr Francis Ogbonnaya,

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