Breeders looking years ahead as growers start national grain harvest

As Australia’s grain harvest kicks off, activity is also building for the country’s crop breeders.

Teams across the country are busy assessing the most promising breeding lines in field trials, while also monitoring seed production to prepare for the next stages of development.

Chair of Australian Crop Breeders Tress Walmsley said it’s a hectic but important time of the year for breeders.

“Creating a new variety takes 10 years on average,” she explained.

“Like farmers, we must be ready to take advantage of seasonal conditions and ensure we’re doing everything we can to push forward our breeding activities, otherwise it can be very hard to make up any lost time or opportunities.

“The planning, effort and timelines involved can be intricate.

“It’s critical we get the many elements right, so we continue to deliver high performing varieties that meet growers’ needs.”

Australian Crop Breeders represents public and private organisations that generate new varieties of wheat, barley, canola, pulse, oat and other grains for Australian farmers.

In the late 1990s, funding for crop breeding shifted from public programs to a private breeding structure, which saw the introduction of Plant Breeder’s Rights with End Point Royalties (EPRs).

The EPR for each variety is a set amount per tonne of grain harvested, which the grower pays when the crop is sold or used as feed. Seed retained for sowing next season is not included in the calculations.

This link between yield and the EPR amount payable provides better breeding outcomes by ensuring both the grower and breeder benefit.

While EPRs are something all grain growers are aware of, Ms Walmsley says “there is a lot of misunderstanding about how they work and why they are essential”.

“Creating and commercialising a new variety takes a long time, and the EPR system is almost the only way we fund development,” she explained.

“There are a couple of exceptions with canola and pulses, but EPR is critically important for funding Australian-based, targeted breeding operations that develop varieties to suit our conditions and local and international markets.

“With more than 90% of our national wheat and barley deliveries from EPR-based varieties, it is clear that we are meeting farmer expectations for in-paddock performance as well as addressing end-user market needs.

“ACB members have delivered a seven times greater improvement in genetic gain for APH wheat varieties, for example, since the shift to private breeding.

“These kinds of results demonstrate the value we continue to deliver to Australia’s grain sector.”

Ms Walmsley encourages farmers to complete their Harvest Declaration forms accurately, and quickly.

“We know the process this year has not been ideal, but we encourage farmers to persevere.

“It’s the best way they can ensure the right crop varieties continue to be developed and released.

“All our members have teams ready to assist growers with their Declarations – they just need get in touch and we will do all we can to help.”

EPR rates and breeder contact information is available from the Variety Central website.

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