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Many mentors shape calling to improve pulses

Supported by a GRDC capacity-building project, Dr Lachlan Lake is on a mission to improve the adaptation and profitability of high-value pulses (chickpeas and lentils) across Australian agroecological zones.
Photo: Dr Lachlan Lake, SARDI

When he was growing up, Lachlan Lake spent time on a small wool and lamb enterprise on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, giving him hands-on appreciation for the importance of good pastures and soil management. On rural and interstate road trips with his father, who has always been an enthusiastic advocate for legumes and a dedicated pasture breeder, he also learnt a lot about different crops.

“An agricultural science career seemed like the obvious choice,” Dr Lake says.

He obtained a degree in agricultural science from the University of Adelaide, together with an honours degree in 2004 on the yield and potential of faba beans. He was supervised by Dr Jeff Paull, who was to become a lasting mentor. He then gained experience working to improve pulses at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and subsequently looked for novel sources of rust resistance in cereals at CSIRO in Canberra.

In 2010, he returned to SARDI to work on pulse physiology again.

It was here that Dr Lake met another significant mentor – Professor Victor Sadras, a global leader in crop ecophysiology. With Professor Sadras’ support, together with a GRDC capacity-building investment, Dr Lake completed his doctorate.

His PhD, supervised by Professor Sadras, Dr Paull and Dr Kristy Hobson (NSW Department of Primary Industries), filled many fundamental gaps on chickpea ecophysiology. He quantified the critical period for yield, delivered a nationwide map of drought stress and heat stress using Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM) modelling software, and established connections between growth and yield that became the cornerstone for physiological applications in chickpea agronomy and breeding. His work with Dr Liz Farquharson (SARDI) has also improved understanding of nitrogen fixation in chickpeas.

This project impressed upon me several integral aspects of conducting successful research, such as proper experimental design and analysis and interpretation of results, and also the value of networking and collaboration to maximise research effort.

Having finished his PhD in 2017, he applied for a GRDC-backed postdoctoral research fellowship to work on a lentil improvement project.

Lentil lift

Lentil production is challenged by waterlogging and Dr Lake estimates that waterlogging affects 60 per cent of Western Australian and 40 per cent of Victorian soils potentially suited to growing lentils, as well as vast tracts of South Australia.

“We developed a new waterlogging tolerance screening method to assess 111 lentil breeding lines and found lines/genotypes with a threefold improvement in growth during waterlogging, as well a twofold increase in the rate of recovery after waterlogging was removed,” he says.

The data were developed and shared with the Agriculture Victoria lentil breeding program along with the new high-throughput screening protocol. It provided insight into important traits that may be used to enhance tolerance to transient waterlogging in future varieties.

Mentors facilitate networks

In 2020, Dr Lake’s network expanded further as he began a national GRDC-invested project, ‘Improving the adaptation and profitability of high-value pulses (chickpea and lentil) across Australian agroecological zones’, led by Professor Jim Weller (University of Tasmania) and Professor Sadras.

“I am managing the field phenotyping component of the project with partners in Gatton, Queensland (Dr Fernanda Dreccer), and Merredin, Western Australia (Dr Bob French and Professor Jairo Palta).

“In conjunction with this, I will be working on a national pulse adaptation project led by CSIRO’s Dr Jeremy Whish and Dr Dreccer, aiming to explore and improve pulse adaptation in existing and new environments.”

These projects have the added benefit of allowing Dr Lake to become a mentor himself – mentoring students from the University of Adelaide as part of his affiliate lecturer status with the university.

More information: Dr Lachlan Lake, 0418 813 495,,

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