Investment in higher value to counter costs rigidity

Investment in higher value to counter costs rigidity

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GRDC will continue to invest in agronomy, farming systems and crop protection, as well as genetic improvement.

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Steve Jefferies, Managing director GRDC

Steve Jefferies, Managing director GRDC

Reducing costs is a major area of GRDC research investment, owing to Australian grain growers having to compete against many countries that have much lower production costs. However, our industry has little control over our comparatively higher costs of labour and many inputs, and the constraints they place on our systems.

Consequently, while investing to improve the overall productivity of our major crops a key new focus will be on lifting the average value of crops.

While GRDC will continue to invest in agronomy, farming systems and crop protection for these high-value crops, its primary new focus will be on genetic improvement, and on enhancing the rates of genetic gain. - Steve Jefferies, Managing director GRDC

Two of the 30 Key Investment Targets in GRDC's 2018-23 RD E Plan focus particularly on high-value crops and their increased incorporation into current cropping systems. The first target is to improve the yield and yield stability of high-value crops. An example of this is advances being made with lentils on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia and chickpeas on the Darling Downs of Queensland.

The second important and related Key Investment Target is to expand the area of high-value crops to boost average prices and profitability of farming systems in areas where these crops have not traditionally been grown. An example of this is providing Western Australian growers with access to profitable chickpeas, lentils or faba bean varieties for their farming systems. GRDC will be focusing strongly on these two important key investment targets over the next five years.

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While GRDC will continue to invest in agronomy, farming systems and crop protection for these high-value crops, its primary new focus will be on genetic improvement, and on enhancing the rates of genetic gain.

Steve Jefferies, Managing director GRDC

Steve Jefferies, Managing director GRDC

Rates of genetic gain are a function of four key factors: (1) genetic diversity; (2) the ability to create and assess a very large number of progeny from intercrossing this genetic diversity with the best varieties we currently have; (3) having very efficient and effective ways of identifying the best of these progeny; and (4) reducing the time it takes to identify the best progeny and use these progeny as parents in future breeding (the breeding cycling time). GRDC is prioritising investment for all four of these critical factors.

Chickpeas are a great example of what we intend to achieve. Over recent times, GRDC has partnered with a number of Australian research entities including CSIRO, the University of WA, Murdoch University, Curtin University, the South Australian Research and Development Institute, the University of Southern Queensland and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in an international consortium charged with substantially lifting the capture of genetic diversity of important characteristics such as disease resistance, acid soil tolerance and chilling tolerance.

GRDC has also recently partnered with the Victorian Government to substantially improve the capacity of the Australian Grains Genebank at Horsham so that this huge trove of genetic resources can be safely and efficiently brought into Australia and used in genetic improvement. These new traits will be critical to the productivity and profitability of chickpeas in current production areas as well as being essential to expanding chickpeas into new areas including WA.

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GRDC will also partner with NSW DPI to increase the productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of our national chickpea breeding program. We will be increasing the scale of the breeding program by more than ten-fold and adopting the latest in breeding technologies to dramatically increase rates of genetic gain in chickpeas in Australia. We are very excited by what can be achieved in chickpeas.

And while GRDC has started this 'high-value' quest with chickpeas, our attention will soon shift to oats, faba beans and lentils. We see great opportunities for improvement in the productivity, and profitability of these crops for all Australian grain growers.

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