Business end of tech targets safflower

Safflower benefits crop rotations

Oilseeds
David Hudson, left, of GO Resources, and Dr Surya Kant in the Plant Phenomics Horsham, Victoria, facility, where phenotyping of safflower for water stress tolerance is taking place. PHOTO Brad Collis

David Hudson, left, of GO Resources, and Dr Surya Kant in the Plant Phenomics Horsham, Victoria, facility, where phenotyping of safflower for water stress tolerance is taking place. PHOTO Brad Collis

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Often over-looked safflower shows promise in dryland and irrigation system rotations.

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A new variety of safflower boasting an oleic acid content of more than 90 per cent making it the only plant-based oil suitable for many high-value industrial applications is set to lead a resurgence in plantings.

Safflower has been largely overlooked following the introduction of canola, but the super-high-oleic (SHO) variety was specifically developed by the joint GRDCCSIRO Crop Biofactories Initiative to expand crop options and develop new markets for Australian grain growers.

GO Resources Pty Ltd, an Australian clean technology company that specialises in the production and supply of renewable and biodegradable raw materials for use in industrial and oleochemical markets, gained regulatory approval for commercial cultivation in 2018.

GO Resources Research and Development Manager David Hudson says bulking-up seed is underway, with a view to launching the first-generation SHO safflower variety in 2019.

Growers attended spring field days in 2018 to evaluate whether the crop was a potential fit in their rotations.

Mr Hudson says prior to the introduction of canola, safflower was once a significant oilseed crop grown in medium-to-high-rainfall regions of Victoria and South Australia, along with the cotton-growing regions of northern NSW.

What we have in mind is a high-value not a high-volume crop option that also has potential to not only deliver economic benefits to farmers but also agronomic and soil-amelioration benefits, he says.

In field trials over three years we have seen benefits from including safflower in a crop rotation in a range of both dryland and irrigated cropping systems.

Safflower is tolerant to sodic soils, dry conditions and can crowd-out weeds. Providing another crop alternative within rotations will help manage herbicide resistance. Also, the plants deep taproot enables it to source water deep in the soil profile, which may help lower water tables where salinity is an issue.

In field trials over three years we have seen benefits from including safflower in a crop rotation in a range of both dryland and irrigated cropping systems. - GO Resources Research and Development Manager David Hudson

The taproot will help improve water penetration and equipment trafficability by breaking up subsoil hardpans.

The GRDCs Head of Business Development, Dr Ron Osmond, says investment in the Crop Biofactories Initiative is designed to expand crop options for growers, develop new and high-value markets, plus deliver agronomic benefits that make Australian growing systems more resilient.

Lead researcher at Agriculture Victoria, Dr Surya Kant, says the CSIRO development, on which this next research phase is based, has demonstrated the potential for safflower crops to produce sufficient levels of super-high-oleic oil to be of serious interest to industry as a sustainable, non-fossil fuel oil source.

The immediate objective is the introgression of the transgenic lines that produce the super-high-oleic oil into commercial varieties of safflower sourced from safflower breeding programs in the US.

They have proven to be readily adapted to dryland and irrigated grain-growing regions in south-eastern Australia.

Breakthrough in Omega 3 

In another development, Australian regulators gave the green light for the worlds first plant-based and sustainable source of omega 3 in 2018.

GRDC is collaborating with CSIRO and Nuseed to develop canola varieties that express long-chain (LC) omega-3 oils that are currently sourced mainly from algae-eating ocean fish.

The canola lines have reached field-trial stage, and are being evaluated for agronomic and technology performance.

The GRDC-supported Australian collaboration has emerged as a leader in this global race after developing canola plants that have LC omega-3 oils at sufficiently high levels.

At CSIRO, the project is being led by Dr Surinder Singh and coordinated by Dr James Petrie.

Dr Singh says CSIROs strategy was to use GM techniques to introduce several plant genes into canola, allowing them to make extra fatty-acid-processing enzymes.

The extra enzymes allow canolas existing short forms of omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) to be extended into the long-chain varieties eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) normally sourced via fish.

Omega-3 canola has been genetically modified to contain long-chain omega 3 fatty acids the first wholly created by Australian scientists.

For many years, nutritionists have recognised the health benefits of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, particularly types known as DHA and EPA.

These are vital for early childhood growth and, in adults, can reduce blood pressure and the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimers disease, inflammatory disease and asthma.

Nuseed will commercialise the technology, expected to deliver the oils from terrestrial crops.

LC omega-3 oil is also used in large quantities to feed farmed fish that do not have access to algae.

Millions of tonnes of wild fish are harvested each year for fish oil and fish meal, which raises concerns about sustainability. Growth in market demand for LC omega-3 oil is restricted by limitations on the fish catch.

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