Wheat breeder moves into barley

The West Australian

Cereal growers are set to reap major benefits from a decision by the country's largest wheat breeder, Australian Grain Technologies (AGT), to move into barley breeding.

Established in 2002, AGT's wheat varieties, including Mace and Suntop, represent more than 40 per cent of Australia's wheat crop and it now has a national breeding footprint, with operating centres in major growing areas across the country.

Cultivating relationships direct with growers, its four regionally based breeding "nodes" are located at Narrabri in northern New South Wales, Wagga Wagga in southern NSW, Roseworthy in South Australia and Northam in Western Australia.

Each node co-ordinates 10-12 satellite testing locations, thereby exposing germplasm across about 50 sites to help identify suitable adaptation.

The company now employs about 50 permanent staff.

Chief executive officer Steve Jefferies said, as its name suggested, AGT always intended to move into breeding other grain varieties and continue contributing to improved productivity, profitability and sustainability for Australian growers.

"Barley is the second major broadacre crop and it is a logical progression because of the synergies and commonality between wheat and barley breeding," Dr Jefferies said.

"They use the same breeding skills and infrastructure.

"The large-scale mechanics of wheat and barley breeding programs are essentially identical.

"The main difference is with the quality characteristics required for malting versus those required for bread and noodles."

The AGT barley breeding program will be supported by germplasm from its international shareholder and partner, the grower-owned French cooperative, Limagrain.

GRDC, the SA Government and the University of Adelaide are other shareholders of AGT.

The world's largest commercial wheat breeder, second-largest commercial barley breeder and fourth-largest seed company, Limagrain also has subsidiary breeding companies around the globe.

"We have exclusive access for Australia to Limagrain's wheat and barley germplasm and this will be combined with the germplasm and breeding tools available to all Australian breeders from the various GRDC, University and State government pre-breeding investments," Dr Jefferies said.

AGT has appointed Paul Telfer to head its barley breeding program.

Mr Telfer has been the project lead for the company's heat stress research at Roseworthy for the past two-and-a-half years.

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