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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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Published: 27 Nov 2019

Building better barley

A new research partnership between the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) and Seed Force aims to improve commercial barley varieties to better tolerate waterlogging, a problem that affects farmers in high-rainfall zones and can severely impact crop yield.

A new research partnership aims to improve commercial barley varieties to better tolerate waterlogging, a problem that affects farmers in high-rainfall zones and can severely impact crop yield.

The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) is partnering with Seed Force to add a waterlogging tolerance gene to RGT Planet barley. The announcement builds on a previous TIA-led project, funded by the Australian Research Council, that identified a major gene controlling the tolerance of waterlogging in barley.

Professor Meixue Zhou, lead TIA researcher, says the discovery has received significant interest from farmers and plant breeders, eager for the gene to be incorporated into commercial varieties.

“We have signed an agreement with Seed Force as our commercial partner to develop a new variety of barley that will withstand extreme wet conditions with no negative impacts on its yield and quality,” Professor Zhou said.

“Waterlogging is a huge issue in high-rainfall zones around Australia and yield losses in barley crops can be up to 50 per cent. By developing a variety that is more tolerant to wet conditions we can help farmers increase their productivity and profitability.”

The gene will be introduced to commercial variety RGT Planet barley through a breeding progress known as introgression. The process requires several backcrosses assisted with genomic selection to ensure the background of the commercial variety is preserved while the waterlogging tolerance gene is added.

Seed Force chairman Warwick Green says that partnering with TIA on this research project is an exciting opportunity to fine tune the company’s already high-performing malt barley variety. It will allow RGT Planet breeder and Seed Force shareholder, RAGT Seeds, to integrate this unique gene into their broader barley breeding program.

“RGT Planet is already one of Australia’s high-performing malt barley varieties. With this program we have the opportunity to further expand the options famers have when considering the areas on their farms that are prone to waterlogging.

“We are very much looking forward to this partnership with TIA, who are leaders in this area of research. Based in Tasmania, they are only too exposed to the long, wet winters and soils that can exacerbate these kinds of issues.”

Brett Gilbertson farms at Millicent in South Australia and says the news of the research partnership is very welcome.

“I am part of the high-rainfall zone Regional Cropping Solutions Network which provides input to GRDC to help give guidance for areas we see as critical for research and development focus.

“Waterlogging is one of those things we and many others contend with on an annual basis. It limits what we can grow on certain parts of our farm, and there are areas where we just don’t take the risk with barley. Once it is waterlogged, we pretty much lose the whole lot.

Mr Gilbertson is keen to see how the inclusion of the waterlogging tolerance gene performs in the paddock when he gets the chance.

“If we can make it work in the barley, it would be wonderful to see then what other crops might benefit, such as wheat or other crop types,” he said.

“This is something we have been asking about for a while, so to see it being started is great.”