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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

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Published: 26 Mar 2020

Rowan Smith with Pasture Seeds

The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) will continue to play a big role in preserving a precious global resource: pasture seeds.

TIA will lead the temperate grasses regeneration program for the Australian Pastures Genebank for another two years.

The genebank is Australia’s first national pasture and forage genetic resource centre and guarantees that the quality and diversity of Australian pasture varieties are preserved for the future.

TIA Research Fellow Dr Rowan Smith manages the program in Tasmania and said it is about safeguarding the future of the agriculture industry.

“Tasmania has long produced some of the finest wool, lamb, beef and dairy in Australia and having access to a diverse range of pasture species is an essential component, Dr Smith said.

"Grazing industries make up more than half of the total farm gate value and bring in over $900 million to the Tasmanian economy.

"Continued development and access of pasture species suitable to Tasmania’s climate and grazing systems is vital and the work we are doing in Tasmania is supporting the long-term availability of diverse pasture species for farmers.

“It’s about maintaining genetic diversity so that plant breeders can access material with a range of traits that might be important for future breeding efforts.

"Pasture seed doesn’t last forever, so it is really important that we identify and prioritise the accessions that need to be regenerated to ensure they are viable and available for use into the future,” Dr Smith said.

Professor Jim Cox, Research Director, Livestock Sciences at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI)*, which manages the Australian Pastures Genebank, said crop diversity is essential for sustainable food production.

“Access to these resources is critical to help agriculture adapt to the future,” Professor Cox said.

“It benefits not only primary producers, but also processors, marketers, breeders, education, the environment and regional farming communities.”

TIA's role in the regeneration program includes managing biosecurity requirements for the movement of germplasm, growing crops for seed production and plant characterisation of specific traits.

This information is used by plant breeders when commencing a program for breeding new pasture plants for producers.

The pasture regeneration program is a large-scale operation with more than 150 accessions grown each year, with up to 100 plants per accession.

These are isolated in a 5-hectare field of ryecorn at the Cressy Research Station.

From these crops, millions of seeds will be deposited into the Australian Pastures Genebank and some will make their way to the "Doomsday" Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, situated halfway between Norway and the North Pole.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was designed as a storage facility to protect vital crop seeds against global disasters like nuclear war or disease, as well as the impact of climate change and loss of biodiversity.

In February it celebrated the milestone of having 1 million varieties stored in its deep freeze and some of those came all the way from our island state.

TIA is a joint venture between the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government.

*SARDI is the research arm of Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA).