Kim Chance

Kim Chance

Minister for Agriculture and Food; Forestry; the Mid West and Wheatbelt; Great Southern

    WA and China sign historic plant breeding agreements

    21/12/2007 10:35 AM

    Western Australia is on the verge of a plant breeding revolution, following the signing of two historic agreements between WA and Zhejiang University in China.

    Agriculture and Food Minister Kim Chance travelled to China last week, to establish a joint research project looking at breeding barley varieties with better acid soil tolerance for WA and China and the transfer of genetic material between China and WA.

    Mr Chance said these agreements offered great hope and potential to both Australian and Chinese farmers as a means of adapting to climate change, soil acidity and developing functional foods with better health outcomes.

    “Up until now, Australia’s grain breeding industry has had to rely mainly on genetic material derived from the Middle East,” he said.

    “Under these two agreements, WA will now have access to genetic material previously unavailable outside China.

    “By using advanced biotechnology to produce non-GM plant breeding outcomes, WA and China are embarking on an historic collaboration in plant breeding.”

    The Barley Acid Soil Tolerance project is a collaboration between the Department of Agriculture and Food and Zhejiang University, the headquarters of the China National Barley Research Centre.

    The aim of the project is to identify and develop new germplasm to help breed the next generation of barley varieties which have better acid soil tolerance. The technology is equally applicable to other cereal crops including wheat.

    Mr Chance said climate change would require breeding of future crop varieties with wide adaptation and tolerances, with the potential to include environments not traditionally suited for sustainable barley production.

    “China and WA share common interests in sustainable agricultural production and face similar challenges in breeding varieties better adapted to harsh environments or seasons,” he said.

    “Soil acidity, salinity, waterlogging, drought and frost are key factors limiting crop growing areas and sustainability of grain production in Australia and China. In particular, soil acidity with high levels of aluminium salts which are toxic to plants are estimated to cause an annual economic loss of $300million to $400million in Australia.”

    The Minister said the Department of Agriculture and Food was currently working on developing initial breakthrough material for acid soil-tolerant malting barley varieties, with increased yield of up to 100 per cent.

    “Through this new collaboration with China, WA researchers will be able to further their research by analysing Chinese barley germplasm which may contribute additional acid soil tolerance,” he said.

    “The three-year project is jointly funded through the Australian Department of Education, Science and Training and China’s National Natural Science Foundation together with the Department of Agriculture and Food.

    “Zhejiang University provides access to a comprehensive collection of China’s barley germplasm and has undertaken extensive research on environmental stress tolerance.”

    The second agreement on the International Genetic Material Transfer covers 80 wheat and barley lines with low phytic acid being sent to Australia for further evaluation.

    As a result, Chinese and Australian plant breeders will have the potential to develop new wheat and barley varieties with improved characteristics for the uptake of nutrients in humans and farm animals.

    Mr Chance said the agreements signified an ongoing commitment to the sister state relationship between WA and Zhejiang, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

    Minister's office - 9213 6700