Development of double-haploid breeding populations to fast track production of dual-purpose awnless wheat for frost-prone areas of South Australia has the potential to drastically cut losses – estimated to cost growers about $33 million a year – and give them more profitable options for grain and hay production.
Following widespread damage across Australia in 2017, from Queensland to Western Australia, southern New South Wales and South Australia, Adelaide-based LongReach Plant Breeders Management Pty Ltd committed to a three-year SAGIT-funded project, Development of dual-purpose wheat varieties for frost management, with the aim of commercializing specific varieties for the state’s high and low rainfall areas.
“This is a timely project that will give growers the chance to mitigate damage on-farm, especially in high-risk areas such as the Mallee, Mid North and Eyre Peninsula,” said Dr Bertus Jacobs, project supervisor and LongReach crop research leader.
“While it’s not possible to predict all events, by looking at temperatures it is possible to narrow the frost window down to about four weeks.
“With 2017 frost costing Australian growers about $100m, the research becomes more and more important,” he said.
LongReach research assistant and pure seed manager Shafiya Hussein says the use of awnless wheat varieties increases the opportunities to cut a cereal crop for hay.
“Growing hay in high-risk paddocks has become an effective frost avoidance strategy,” she said.
“Previously, there has been no targeted breeding of dual-purpose awnless wheat varieties specifically for SA, with either long season spring or winter types developed for other areas of the Australian wheat belt being used.
“The target quality grade for SA growers is APW/AH, so the current varieties’ grain quality, soft or feed, limit the profitability of awnless wheat for grain production.”
Hay production also had the additional benefit of improving overall weed control through weed suppression in crop and cutting before the growth of weed seeds.
Dr Jacobs said the initial stage of establishing a double haploid population involved completing a crossing block of 450 lines of Australian awnless varieties to assess suitable parents. These would be evaluated next year in tandem with development of another 1000 lines, from which several could be cited as possible commercial varieties.
“There are several mechanisms involved, with the project aiming to enable growers’ flexibility in seeding times and crop maturity, with the ability to cut for grain or hay” he said.
“In 2019, we will proceed to more extensive field trials and assess components such as straw strength, colour and grain quality.”
Although wheaten hay and straw is not marketed as extensively as oaten hay, there is increasing demand domestically and in Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and Brunei.
Ms Hussein said hay exporters JT Johnson & Sons, Balco Australia and Kalleske Chaff in SA supported the need for awnless hay wheat varieties to meet the growing demand and industry support was being offered for hay and chaff quality testing as part of the project’s variety development.