How global research powers our paddocks and our people

The best seat is the driving seat


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FOREIGN FIELDS: At the Cadi Ayyad University, in Marrakech, fly parasitoids from Morocco are assessed for their potential to improve the biocontrol of pointed snails in a study with CSIRO and SARDI. PHOTO Yassine Fendane

FOREIGN FIELDS: At the Cadi Ayyad University, in Marrakech, fly parasitoids from Morocco are assessed for their potential to improve the biocontrol of pointed snails in a study with CSIRO and SARDI. PHOTO Yassine Fendane

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The best seat is the driving seat.

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While Australian grain growers face many unique challenges, there are some that are too large, too complex and too expensive for us to solve on our own. We need to partner with the best research agencies if we are to deliver the best results, and that means international collaboration.

Australia's investment in agricultural research, development and extension (RD&E) is only around two per cent of what is invested globally but, through international collaboration, we are able to attract global investment and expertise to benefit Australian growers.

GRDC's national grower and Australian Government-supported grains RD&E model is unique and the envy of other grain-producing countries because it creates the critical mass needed to make us a valued partner in international research programs.

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The research profiled in the July-August 2019 edition of GRDC's GroundCover™ Supplement showcases some of GRDC's strategic investment in international collaboration.

There are direct international investments overseas and many more that are based on international collaboration. Through this we attract global investment and expertise that benefits Australian growers.

For example, sequencing the first wheat and barley genomes was a major breakthrough - a much more complex challenge than sequencing the human genome. This achievement alone will have a tremendous impact on our ability to target specific crop genetic improvements.

Australian researchers from the University of Adelaide and Murdoch University, in Perth, are now part of a worldwide initiative to sequence multiple wheat and barley genomes to help drive the ambitious - and crucial - target of doubling the rate of yield gain.

Australia needs to be a part of this quest to be able to access genetic resources from elsewhere in the world, as we have very few native crop relatives - wild sorghum and rice being rare exceptions.

As a consequence, our Australian Grains Genebank plays a vital role in the introduction of new sources of genetic diversity and this is driven by strong international relationships.

One example of this flow-on benefit is in GRDC's ambition to expand the access of Australian grain growers to high-value pulses such as chickpeas.

We have invested in international collaboration to access wild chickpea relatives that may deliver acid soil tolerance. This would allow the crop's expansion into WA, southern NSW and other areas where acid soils are a production constraint.

GRDC managing director, Dr Steve Jefferies. PHOTO GRDC

GRDC managing director, Dr Steve Jefferies. PHOTO GRDC

Secure biosecurity

With respect to protecting our grains industry from biosecurity threats, there are some issues we simply should not even attempt to deal with in Australia.

Instead, by working in countries where a particular pest or disease is already endemic, we can develop pre-emptive defence strategies against a new pest or disease incursion or new strains of a pathogen.

There is no doubt that the high productivity we enjoy in the Australian grains industry is, at least in part, due to our strong connections with the best research agencies in the world. - GRDC managing director Dr Steve Jefferies

This is exemplified in the work of the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program and the Centre for Crop and Disease Management, which work with international teams to identify important disease resistance genes that can be incorporated into Australian varieties so that they are protected in advance of any incursion.

We also support the offshore evaluation of new biological control agents to ensure they do not harm native species. For instance, CSIRO is working overseas to investigate better biological control agents for pointed (or conical) snails.

When you consider the breadth and strength of such international research relationships there can be no doubt that the high productivity we enjoy in the Australian grains industry is due, at least in part, to our strong connections with the best research agencies in the world.

Capacity building

The same applies to the technologies we need. International collaboration allows us to access the best research tools and technical advances.

Even with advanced facilities like the Australian synchrotron (a particle accelerator that acts like a super-powered microscope) there are some capabilities that are only available offshore.

For instance, the University of Queensland needed the different capabilities of the synchrotron in Thailand to investigate the behaviour of phosphorus in deep bands in the soil profile.

But perhaps some of the greatest value of international collaboration comes from less overt benefits, such as enhanced professional development for our Australian researchers.

GRDC invests in educational travel opportunities for both our research partners and our growers, such as through the Nuffield Scholars program.

By sending our talented people overseas, we enable them to build skills and make new professional connections. These personal interactions and conversations can lead to some of the most valuable breakthroughs in agriculture.

So through research relationships, collaborations and contributions, the Australian grains industry is leveraging itself into a leadership position.

The flow-on from this is the resilience and progression that we see every day as our growers and researchers seize opportunities, manage challenges and take control of our industry's future.

More information: Dr Steve Jefferies, 02 6166 4500, steve.jefferies@grdc.com.au

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