Durum Breeding Australia (DBA), a national durum breeding program delivered by New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) and the University of Adelaide in partnership with the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), today announced that Australian Grain Technologies Pty Ltd (AGT) has been awarded the license to take the durum breeding program forward.

Durum breeding to grow in commercial sector

GRDC, NSW DPI and the University of Adelaide have co-invested in the DBA program since 2008, successfully delivering new durum varieties with improved yield and quality attributes for the Australian durum production areas.

In 2020, the DBA partners took the opportunity to leverage commercial breeding sector investment, technologies and capabilities in cereal breeding and sought proposals from the commercial breeding sector to licence the germplasm from the DBA program to continue durum breeding.

Australian breeding company, AGT, is already actively engaged in commercial durum breeding managing a program attached to its core cereal breeding activities. The addition of the DBA germplasm into AGT’s breeding program demonstrates the increasing value of this crop to grain growers in both northern and southern regions.

Cathie Warburton, Interim Managing Director, GRDC, said that the outcome was a testament to the strength of the DBA collaboration built over many years and the shared vision to successfully move the breeding program from a research and development environment to the commercial sector.

“Our strategy for durum breeding had centered around meeting grower needs without generating market failure. For GRDC, it’s all about finding the right path to market and helping growers become more profitable,” said Ms Warburton.

“This next stage for durum breeding reflects years of hard work from durum growers, researchers, breeders, processors and marketers, each making an important contribution to the durum industry.”

Durum wheat was first produced in Australia in the 1930s with a small plant breeding program established at the NSW Agriculture Glen Innes Experiment Farm. NSW DPI has been involved in the breeding since those early days.

“NSW DPI's had involvement in durum breeding for NSW grain growers for 86 years, finishing up in mid-2021,” said Dr Alison Bowman, NSW DPI Group Director Plant Systems. “The NSW DPI Tamworth team, leading the northern node of Durum Breeding Australia, had an extremely successful track record in developing durum varieties for NSW and Australian durum growers releasing 15 varieties in that time. These varieties now account for more than 90% of the durum wheat grown in the northern grains region.

“The varieties had higher yields, but it is the outstanding grain quality of the DBA Tamworth lines (bright yellow semolina loved by pasta makers internationally) that established durum wheat for international export production from Australia,” said Dr Bowman.

“The success of the NSW DPI breeding program in developing these varieties has seen the industry grow to the point that breeding can now be done on a commercial footing by a private plant breeding company using the elite germplasm developed by the NSW DPI team.”

Professor Anton Middelberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Adelaide said the University’s focus on durum breeding over many years had made an important contribution to the industry’s viability.

“The University of Adelaide is proud of its long association with durum breeding and its enduring legacy, which can be found throughout the Australian durum industry today,” said Professor Middelberg. “With our focus on pre-breeding research, studying the specific traits that are needed for tolerance and resilience to Australian growing conditions, the University’s strong connection with industry will continue.

“We will work closely with Australia’s leaders in durum – such as San Remo, AGT, and the Southern Australia Durum Growers Association – to ensure the very best outcomes for industry and for consumers nation-wide, applying world-class science to add further value to an industry that is critically important to Australian agriculture and the economy,” said Professor Middelberg.

AGT CEO Haydn Kuchel and University of Adelaide Professor Jason Able at the handover of durum germplasm from DBA to AGT.

AGT Chief Executive Officer and Head of Breeding, Haydn Kuchel, said he was pleased that the company had been successful in securing the germplasm and looked forward to leveraging new opportunities for Australian durum grain growers.

“Breeding durum has been part of AGT’s story for 20 years and we have successfully developed several elite varieties for Australian conditions,” said Dr Kuchel.

“Taking on new germplasm from the DBA will allow us to keep delivering improved durum varieties beyond Bitalli and Westcourt, which have become the leading performers in the south and north respectively.”

“Using cutting-edge breeding technologies to increase efficiency and genetic gain means we offer Australian durum growers the benefits of a globally competitive breeding company,” said Dr Kuchel. “The work we do to improve yields and resilience reflects our passion for seeing Australian rural communities and businesses thrive.

“AGT is excited about continuing to work with durum growers and manufacturers to advance this high value crop’s impact and importance in Australian agriculture.”