Lupin breeding switches hands

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Jenne BrammerCountryman
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Announcing the new lupin breeding licensing agreement were DAFWA's Mark Sweetingham, GRDC western Panel chairman Peter Roberts and AGT CEO Steve Jefferies.
Camera IconAnnouncing the new lupin breeding licensing agreement were DAFWA's Mark Sweetingham, GRDC western Panel chairman Peter Roberts and AGT CEO Steve Jefferies. Credit: Countryman

Australian Grain Technologies is to take over lupin breeding from the Department of Agriculture and Food WA and GRDC, under a new long-term licensing agreement.

Announced at the Grain Research Updates, Perth, the arrangement allows AGT, as the licensee, to commercially develop the current pipeline, as well as invest directly in improved new varieties.

Although no new variety release is scheduled for 2016, new varieties could be seen within two years.

GRDC and DAFWA remain owners of all genetic materials in which they have co-invested and the agreement contains several performance and reporting obligations to ensure the program meets industry objectives and grower needs.

The new AGT licensing agreement comes on the back of the sale of DAFWA’s pasture breeding program to New Zealand-based agricultural conglomerate PGG Wrightson late last year, and recent moves to divest itself of the overall grains research and development program through the establishment of the non-profit GrainsWest organisation.

GRDC will continue to support lupin development through its pre-breeding and systems agronomy investments.

DAFWA will continue to deliver applied lupin agronomy and crop protection research through its regional network and will provide expertise to existing pre-breeding genetic improvement projects.

DAFWA’s lupin breeder Jon Clements will remain with DAFWA to focus on lupin pre breeding work.

AGT is in discussion with Mr Clements and DAFWA regarding a separate consultative role with AGT.

AGT has also appointed plant breeder Dini Ganesalingam who will work in close collaboration with Mr Clements.

It is hoped the new commercial focus will provide greater certainty for the future of lupin breeding for WA growers and lead to a revival in the plantings of the legume.

DAFWA grains research and development executive director Mark Sweetingham said the move to a commercial partnership would maximise opportunities to provide new and improved traits, aimed at improving the profitability of growing lupins.

DAFWA and GRDC have been in partnership breeding lupins for at least 25 years.

“We hand the lupin breeding program over in very good condition, we are confident AGT can take it and move it on to its new height,” Dr Sweetingham said.

GRDC Western Region panel chairman Peter Roberts said was hopeful the shift of lupin breeding into the private sector would lead to varieties that added enough value to increase WA production back to around 1 million tonnes annually.

WA last year produced 452,000 tonnes of lupins, but this has dropped as low as 220,000 tonnes in recent years.

AGT chief executive Steve Jefferies, who will take on the role of GRDC managing director from John Harvey in July, said lupins complemented AGT’s existing cereal breeding work which included wheat, barley and durum.

“Lupins are the fifth largest winter grain crop in Australia and we will be examining how we can best increase the value of lupins in Australian farming systems through improved yield, disease resistance, broader adaptation, herbicide tolerance and seed quality,” he said.

Dr Jefferies said AGT was also keen in how lupins could add maximum value to the wheat crop and whole farming system.

He said AGT had based its business model on whether lupins were viable and sustainable as a feed crop.

“However, if we can help make it into a food crop, as well as feed crop, then that’s going to provide added value too,” he said.

PGA grains section president Gary McGill said the move for the private sector to take over lupin breeding was in line with DAWFA’s long term direction to exit fundamental activities.

“It’s not really a surprise and I expect it will possibly be an advantage to lupin breeding activities because of the commercial focus,” he said.

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