Research projects

Australian Durum Wheat Improvement Program (ADWIP)

Inspecting a durum wheat crop

ADWIP staff member David Gulliford (right) inspecting Durum crop.

Industry & Investment NSW and the University of Adelaide durum breeding programs were merged in 2007/08 to create a single publicly funded durum wheat breeding program, the Australian Durum Wheat Improvement Program (ADWIP). The project leader / breeder is based at Tamworth. ADWIP laboratory activities at TAI are quality certified to ISO9001:2008 standard.

ADWIP has a national outlook and is market-driven by being integrated with medium to long term demand signals (in terms of quality traits) from consumers - domestic and international. The Australian durum wheat industry is highly competitive internationally and Australian durum quality is regarded by Italian durum millers and processors as amongst the world's best.

Industry & Investment NSW has been involved in durum breeding for more than 60 years and its cultivars continue to dominate the Australian industry. University of Adelaide (UA) durum breeding activities started in 1989.

NSW produces approximately 55% of national production, and South Australia 40%. Domestic durum requirement is approximately 300,000 tonnes. Marketers would like a consistent supply of 1 million tonnes for export. This requires a considerable expansion in area and/or productivity. There is potential for production expansion in New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia such that Australia could consistently produce 1.1 Mt. In the short term it is more likely that, given reasonable seasons, production will be in the order of 750,000 tonnes regularly.

A key requirement is to develop varieties that can cope with the differing biotic and abiotic stresses of different regions but produce the same durum quality.

Grain pathology (NGPU)

Releasing aphids on faba beans

Merv Riley releasing Bean leafroll viruliferous aphids on a faba bean nursery to screen for BLRV resistance.

The Northern Grains Pathology Unit (NGPU) is the major provider of integrated disease management, disease surveillance, and extension, education and training services in the northern cropping zone. The unit has a long history of effectively developing and delivering integrated disease management strategies to support industry in minimising losses to the key cereal and pulse diseases in the region. Both Cereal Disease Management (CDM) and Pulse Disease Management (PDM) laboratory and field activities are quality certified to ISO 9001:2008 standard, and have been since November 2004.

The NGPU mission is to reduce losses from diseases of winter grain crops in the northern region, i.e. grain belt extending from central NSW to the Queensland border. It does this by conducting research on disease control, developing integrated disease management packages, collaborating with cereal, pulse and oilseed breeding/improvement programs to release resistant varieties, and providing diagnosis, surveillance, extension, education and training. 

Currently, the five major wheat diseases in the northern region based on loss estimates are yellow spot ($52m), stripe rust ($47m), root lesion nematode ($38m), crown rot ($37m) and fusarium head blight ($9m). In barley the major five diseases are crown rot ($23m), net form of net blotch ($21m), spot form of net blotch ($18m), powdery mildew ($9m) and common root rot ($7m). The most important disease is therefore crown rot ($60m total) although leaf diseases and root lesion nematodes also cause major losses. In chickpea, the most important broadleaf grain crop in the region, ascochyta blight and phytophthora root rot cause major losses. Chickpea and other alternative grain crops are also affected by root lesion nematodes, several other foliar diseases, and viruses transmitted by aphids.

The pathology component of crop breeding programs aims to reduce the impact of fungal and virus diseases by incorporating resistance into new varieties. Adoption of new chickpea and faba bean varieties will support new and existing growers to increase the area sown and move closer to having 20% of the cropped area sown to broadleaf crops.  TAI is now the national centre for screening for virus resistance in pulse breeding programs.

Segregating fieldpea populations

Janine Sipple inoculating segregating field pea populations to identify resistance to Pea seed-borne mosaic virus.

Mechanical inoculation of field peas

Merv Riley and Finn Fensbo using mechanical inoculation of field peas with Pea seed-borne mosaic virus and Bean yellow mosaic virus.

Australian Winter Cereals Collection (AWCC)

Inspecting wheat plants in the greenhouse

AWCC staff member Chris Bowman inspecting wheat plants

The role of the Australian Winter Cereals Collection is the introduction, quarantine, documentation, characterisation, distribution and long-term storage of winter cereal germplasm. The collection promotes the efficient utilisation of genetic resources by assisting scientists identify required germplasm, by developing close relationships nationally and internationally to ensure access to exotic germplasm, and by collaborating internationally in the development of standardised information systems as a resource to winter cereal improvement programs.

The collection was first set up in 1967 as a wheat collection. Material was collected initially from Australian research programs and then subsequently from international collaborators. Barley and oat collections were added in 1986.

The AWCC currently stores 54,000 accessions under long-term conditions at 18°C. Approximately 15,000 samples are despatched annually to domestic and international researchers. The major focus is currently on landrace and ancestral material for the identification of new forms of resistance to pests and diseases, both domestic and exotic. This has proved to be highly successful with important traits such as boron tolerance, CCN resistance and salinity tolerance being identified from this material. Other genes for sunn pest resistance, Russian wheat aphid resistance and powdery mildew resistance have also been identified using similar material. The landrace/ancestral material base is continually being increased by the introduction of material from Vavilov Institute (Russia), ICARDA (Syria), USDA (United States), IPK (Germany), CGN (Netherlands) and NGB (Sweden).

The collection has four full-time staff members. The collection is funded by Industry & Investment NSW and the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC).

Cereal & pulse food chemistry

Pulse Food Chemistry staff

Pulse Food Chemistry staff Kate Keir and Jenny Wood displaying various pulse products

Current laboratories at Tamworth are dedicated to cereals (durum) and pulses (chickpea, faba bean, field pea and lupin). The Tamworth Cereal Chemistry Unit (TCC) performs quality screening of durum wheat lines for durum breeders within the Australian Durum Wheat Improvement Program and for other breeding companies on a contract basis. TCC also conducts research in collaboration with other organisations, and performs its own research through CRC, GRDC and other funding sources on durum wheat quality and biochemistry/technology. Laboratory activities are quality certified to ISO9001:2008 standard.

Activities include conducting quality assessments for national breeding programs (durum, chickpeas and faba beans), grain quality analyses of National Variety Testing trials, research into various aspects of grain quality and food products, development of new foods and functional food ingredients, sensory science, and supervision of PhD studies in related areas.

Industry & Investment NSW is keen to focus on food quality and nutritive value in the future. Research is identifying and enhancing attributes of food and feeds that contribute to health and wellbeing of humans and animals. Of increasing importance is the development of agricultural produce as nutriceuticals, food processing ingredients, pharmaceuticals and functional foods that reduce the incidence of lifestyle diseases.

The Tamworth laboratories have already progressed in this direction, with five PhD students in collaboration with the University of New England and Charles Sturt University working on food science topics. There has been an approach to progress a "centre of excellence" to work with regional businesses which use cereals/pulses for processing food products.

Lucerne breeding

Lucerne Breeding staff

Lucerne Breeding staff Tim O'Brien and Nathan Stace screening for aluminium tolerance

Industry & Investment NSW established its lucerne breeding program in 1978, and during the life of the program has received financial support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), Australian Wool Innovation Pty Ltd and Dairy Australia. The funding support resulted in the breeding program releasing successful lucerne varieties such as Aurora, Genesis, Aquarius, Venus and Pegasis. The breeding program moved to Tamworth in 1996. It has purpose-built facilities and a diverse germplasm base built over several years of selections for major traits such as yield, disease and pest tolerance/resistance and agronomic characteristics. It has the only ISO9001:2008 certified pathology screening laboratory in Australia.

The breeding program continues to develop new lucerne varieties for NSW and Australian lucerne growers with high emphasis on persistence, biomass yield, pest and disease tolerance for spotted alfalfa aphid, blue green aphid, phytophthora root rot and anthracnose which are prevalent in Australia. More recently, new germplasm is being developed with an added focus on seed yield, seed size, early establishment and frost tolerance.

The breeding program has also developed collaborative linkages with SARDI and VIC DPI to develop acid soil tolerant lucerne and rhizobia. This work was initially funded through the CRC for Plant Based Dryland Salinity Management, and now in its second phase is funded for evaluation of potential acid soil tolerant rhizobia through its successor, the CRC for Future Farm Industries. It is also expected that the acid soil tolerant germplasm developed will flow into the breeding program for further development and evaluation in acid soil areas of NSW. Acid soil tolerant rhizobia is being developed through the CRC FFI, a collaborative partner.

The breeding program is actively involved in assisting the Industry & Investment NSW agronomists in disseminating up-to-date information on lucerne varieties through participation in various field days, open days and 'Lucerne for Profit' courses.

PBA Chickpea Breeding Program

Launching the latest chickpea variety

Launch of latest chickpea variety HatTrick

The Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA) Chickpea Breeding Program is coordinated by the project leader and breeder based at Tamworth.

Chickpea production commenced in southern Queensland and northern NSW in the late 1970s. The industry remains concentrated there, but has spread to central Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and most recently to the wheatlands of Western Australia. National crop area is approximately 300,000-400,000 ha. Significant regional volatility in production has been attributed to one or a combination of factors including price, drought, weeds and herbicides, 'hostile' soils, harvestability and, most importantly, disease.

PBA chickpea breeding commenced in 1996 with the objective of consolidating state and regional programs into a nationally focused program. Important advances have also been achieved in developing germplasm with new or improved characteristics: resistance to ascochyta blight, phytophthora root rot (PRR) and root-lesion nematode (RLN) resistance (from wild relatives), improved harvestability and seed quality, and tolerance to salinity and herbicide (e.g. isoxaflutole).

The broad aim of the program is to expand the Australian chickpea industry to >500,000 ha by 2015 through release of regionally adapted varieties that maintain or improve desirable quality traits for export into the Indian subcontinent.

Perennial Pastures Agronomy Evaluation

Pasture research at Tamworth has three main components: the role of pasture mixes, water use efficiency and tropical grasses.

This information is essential to the development of more resilient pasture types that can take advantage of environmental niches and better match the variable climate that occurs in northern NSW. This climate variability includes substantial differences in both inter- and intra-annual rainfall and temperature, resulting in an environment that can support a range of tropical and temperate perennial pasture species as well as forage crops. Lucerne (Medicago sativa subsp. sativa) is the best adapted perennial legume for the North West Slopes of NSW, and research includes studies of production and persistence of field sowings of lucerne with both temperate (tall fescue cv. Resolute MaxP) and tropical grasses (digit grass cv. Premier) sown in different row-sward configurations and at different times.

The focus of the water use efficiency studies are replicated, grazed, factorial plots sown to test the compatibility of a range of legume-grass mixtures (both temperate and tropical grasses and annual and perennial legumes) and their ability to use stored soil water and reduce surface runoff and erosion. Species in the mixtures were deliberately chosen to have growth patterns that were either complementary (i.e. one cool-season growing, the other warm-season) or competitive (i.e. both cool-season or warm-season growing) to enable exploitation and/or replenishment of soil water at different times of the year. These pasture mixtures are also being compared with forage oats, to test the feasibility of reducing the dependence of livestock systems on this annual forage crop.

It is proposed to further investigate the role of tropical grasses in present and future livestock production systems to fill 'information gaps' related to winter supplementation and animal growth rates that can be achieved in summer. Tropical perennial grasses have performed well in local evaluation studies - there is widespread producer interest in their potential role and they are better adapted than temperate grasses to the proposed climate change scenarios for the region of higher carbon dioxide levels and higher summer temperatures.

Soil and water management

Soil management has been a key area of research at TAI since its beginning, with the improved nutrition of crops and pastures often a major research focus. Soil scientists at TAI have often been integral partners in a range of multi-disciplinary projects aimed at developing new and more sustainable farm practices.

Current and recent research projects based at Tamworth include:

  • Monitoring and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions from legume-cereal cropping rotations;
  • Identifying emerging crop and pasture nutrition issues, plus improving methods for plant nutrient monitoring in soils and delivery through fertilisers;
  • Strategies for reducing fertiliser losses when applied to local cropping soils;
  • Extension of soil health, soil biology and organic carbon learning throughout the farming community in workshop series for graziers and for grain growers;
  • Determining the soil carbon sequestration potential of the major cropping and grazing soils of the region as affected by land use, species grown and fertiliser usage;
  • Regeneration of hardsetting soils;
  • Investigating the effects of biochar and other organic amendments to soil for their impacts on soil processes and pasture productivity.

Most of these activities have collaborative linkages with universities, other state agencies, farmer and advisor groups, and several are part of national research networks focusing on similar issues in a coordinated way.

TAI has a well-equipped soil and plant processing facility, plus a soil research laboratory that services the non-routine aspects of soil sample analysis for some of these projects. Routine sample analyses are catered for by the department's commercial laboratory located at Wollongbar.

Weeds management

The Weeds Management Unit commenced in 1994 and has developed a commercial wild oat management program, investigated the effects of spray drift, and researched cropping, pastoral and environmental weed control treatments that are currently recommended throughout Australia. Additionally the unit extends weed control management information through all forms of media.

Current research is split amongst four projects as follows:

Herbicide Resistant (HR) Weeds project

This project builds on existing knowledge of herbicide/weed/farming system complexes (northern region) that are at risk of developing herbicide resistance (HR). The main objective is to preserve the usefulness of agricultural herbicides and emphasise the benefits of integrated weed management. Recommended strategies minimise the adverse impact of existing HR weeds and reduce the risk of further development. Herbicide and non-herbicide weed management trials are conducted to develop and demonstrate practical integrated weed management techniques. Collaboration takes place regionally and nationally to ensure that existing knowledge, including HR models, is captured and incorporated into HR management strategies for the northern region.

Fleabane Management project

Fleabane is a problem weed due to its tolerance to glyphosate, its drought hardiness, large seed production, and lack of registered options. Grain growers have identified fleabane as a weed that has become more frequent in recent years and is a consequence of no-till or minimum-till farming systems. Glasshouse and field trials develop and improve management techniques in cropping systems. Data collected is submitted to either APVMA or specific chemical companies to allow label registration or Pesticide Permits.

Alligator Weed Control Project

Alligator weed is a tough perennial aquatic and terrestrial plant. It is a widespread weed in the Hunter region and parts of Sydney. Any outbreak in NSW must be eradicated under the Noxious Weed Act. The project is conducted in conjunction with CSIRO and Port Stephens Shire Council. It primarily focuses on determining the most effective use of herbicides, and combines that with a wide range of management options, e.g. biological control, maintaining competitive species, manipulating pastures to improve chemical control and understanding the ecology of alligator weed.

Cat's Claw Creeper and Madeira Vine Control project

Madeira vine and cat's claw creeper grow in various forms - as vines attached to the hosts' trunk and outer limbs, as ground-scrambling runners and as seedlings. Serious environmental damage has been reported due to these weeds, as they eventually kill host trees. In addition, these weeds can persist and spread via aerial tubers (Madeira vine) and masses of windblown seed (cat's claw creeper).

Efforts in the past have been focused at removing the established weed that is attached to the host, with little effort directed at the other components. Within a few years, the areas previously treated become as weedy as the original infestation. New research focuses primarily on assessing the use of selective chemicals to encourage competition from desirable plants. The results will provide long-term control information.

Economics research

Economics research at Tamworth primarily focuses on assessing the economic impact of alternative agricultural technologies and resource management strategies for sustainable cropping and grazing systems in northern NSW. The main areas of work include:

  • Analysing the impacts of alternative technologies and economic conditions;
  • Providing economic information on resource use, production and marketing relevant to the Northern Farming Systems Unit and to the clients of I&I NSW;
  • Providing off-farm management information, particularly in the form of the annual revision of budgeting handbooks for the cropping enterprises of northern NSW;
  • Providing economic analysis for industry-funded projects, such as:

    Climate change (ACIAR ASEM/2006/130)
    Development of whole-farm models and business-related extension materials to facilitate adoption of conservation farming practices and to estimate the likely profitability of alternative summer cropping strategies under likely climate change scenarios. This project largely focuses on adaptation, recognising that conservation farming practices developed for adaptation to a variable climate can also provide capacity for adaptation to climate change, and that existing cropping systems can be altered to adapt to likely future climate outcomes.

    Pastures (Evergraze)
    The focus of this research program will be how to integrate different forage sources on-farm to achieve the profit and NRM goals of producers at a scale that is realistic. Specifically, representative regional gross margins for sheep and cattle enterprises are being developed as well as whole farm budgets for assessing the profitability and risk of sowing improved pastures and changing sheep production enterprises from store stock systems to fattening and breeding systems.

Weed Biological Control (WBCS)

Blue heliotrope biological control field day

I&I NSW staff member Paul Sullivan speaking at a blue heliotrope biological control field day

The Weed Biological Control Section (WBCS) is part of the Biosecurity Branch. The main role of the WBCS is to improve and promote the adoption of biological weed control programs by the community. The community is provided with information and resources to ensure competent and effective use of biological control agents. This information is presented at field days, workshops, vocational training and via the development of educational material. Legislation that is required to support a framework for weed biological control is supported by the WBCS. A most important role is the rearing and redistribution of biological control agents for a range of weeds including bitou bush, lantana, cat's claw creeper, bridal creeper, salvinia, Paterson's curse, blue heliotrope, Scotch broom and cape broom.

In addition, WBCS staff members are involved in the Weed Warriors program both through supply of biological control agents to participating schools and as technical experts.

WBCS staff members are currently conducting research on ecology of biological control agents of bitou bush, lantana, salvinia and Paterson's curse.