The decision to establish a national centre for legume research in Western Australia recognised the State's standing as a world leader in Mediterranean legume-based systems, Agriculture Minister Ernie Bridge said today.
At the official opening of the new Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA), Mr Bridge said WA led the world in the proportion of its agricultural land sown to improved legume species. It currently provided half Australia's annual grain legume crop of 1.5 million tonnes.
Legume plants such as clover, peas and lupins, take nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it in their root system, allowing the plant to grow without the addition of fertiliser nitrogen. The process also provides nitrogen for following crops or pastures.
The new research centre, based at the University of WA, is a collaborative venture involving the Department of Agriculture, University of WA, CSIRO, and Murdoch University. Its aim is to increase the profitability of Australian mediterranean agriculture through intensive research, education and extension programs.
The four joint venturers are investing $47 million over seven years in salaries and facilities for the centre, while additional funds totalling more than $2 million a year over the seven years have been allocated by the Commonwealth and State Governments and university sources.
Mr Bridge said legumes were the key to sustainable agriculture on poor and infertile soils, and CLIMA would aim to accelerate the adoption of legumes across the rest of southern Australia.
A major limitation to that thrust at present was the lack of a widely adapted and reliably high yielding grain legume for many soil types.
In WA, the heavier, often shallow or alkaline soils to which narrow-leafed lupin is not well-adapted, occupy more than five million hectares, while there are more than 12 million hectares in southern Australia. A major part of CLIMA's research effort will be to correct those deficiencies.
CLIMA is one of up to fifty co-operative research centres in natural sciences and engineering set to receive Federal Government funding support. CLIMA is one of the first 35 centres selected, and one of two to be wholly located in WA to date.
Mr Bridge said it was appropriate that the University of WA was hosting CLIMA, as Australia's first and most successful national legume breeding programs for lupins and subterranean clover had their origins there.
Professor Alan Robson has been appointed director for the first five years of CLIMA's operations.