Star line-up at Merredin

Pulse Australia’s Paul McIntosh with Dr Lee Hickey, keynote speaker at the 2016 DAFWA Merredin Research Facility Field Day.
Camera IconPulse Australia’s Paul McIntosh with Dr Lee Hickey, keynote speaker at the 2016 DAFWA Merredin Research Facility Field Day. Credit: Countryman

The discovery of the gene in a barley plant that causes it to send roots down rather than sideways could be the start of drought-proofing this important crop for Western Australia’s central and eastern wheatbelt regions.

Award winning scientist Dr Lee Hickey, who headed the team from the University of Queensland that recently discovered the gene, will be the keynote presenter at this year’s Department of Agriculture and Food Merredin Research Facility Field Day.

To be held on September 21, the day will discuss the importance of this gene and what it could mean for the future of barley crops in the region.

The gene causes the plants to grow deep but narrow roots, and has also been identified in rice, maize and sorghum, but this is the first time it has been found in barley.

Dr Hickey said with barley being the world’s fourth largest cereal crop, and often one grown in drought-prone areas, a mechanism to allow farmers to minimise losses in bad years could be very important.

“Even in a drought, there is water deep in the subsoil and to be able to breed plants with the type of root system to access this water means growers can maintain barley yields in drought conditions,” he said.

Dr Hickey said apart from the capacity to access deeper water, the deep but narrow structure stops a barley plant wasting energy competing with its neighbours, a valuable thing in a plant usually grown as a monoculture.

“The discovery could be a step towards providing varieties matched to the soil and climate conditions of individual farms,” he said.

“Excitingly, this year, for the first time, we are testing the deep rooting trait in WA in collaboration with DAFWA.

Data collected this year will provide insight into the potential value of the trait under the vastly different soil and rainfall conditions.”

At the DAFWA Field Day, Dr Hickey will showcase the experimental barley lines with the deep rooting trait and discuss the next steps to deliver improved varieties with designer roots. Clear pots will be on hand to visualise the root growth of various barley varieties.

Dr Hickey has identified commonalities with the genes that play the same role in other cereals, which may assist with further work in other species, particularly wheat.

DAFWA development officer Greg Shea, said the field day would be a chance for growers throughout the region to look at a range of agronomic strategies and trial work being conducted at the well-known research establishment.

He said trials and discussions would include the early sowing opportunity for wheat and canola, the latest varietal and agronomy information on chick peas and field peas, overcoming soil constraints for canola, and a presentation on the in-furrow fungicide Uniform® for the control of soil borne diseases

Mr Shea said the field day was an annual event that was always well supported by growers from right across the central and eastern wheatbelt regions.

The field day will be run from 9.30am until 4.30 at the Research Facility in Merredin. For further information, contact Greg Shea 0427 449 398.

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