Persistent Varieties

You can help make new persistent varieties

Have you noticed unusual plants in your travels around the farm or the local area that you have thought would have potential as a pasture variety? Perhaps you have a 30 year old pasture paddock that has survived the many recent drought years. If the answer is yes, read on and find out how you can be a part of developing a new variety.

Over the last 10 years the pasture industry in Australia has seen a decline in the number of public sector breeding programs for forage species. This responsibility has now been passed onto private seed companies in Australia however very few companies have taken on the responsibility of breeding new varieties in Australia for Australian farmers.   Breeding new varieties costs a lot of money; many perennial species can take up to 12 years to get to market at a cost of over $1 million each.

Many companies have gone for the cheaper option of accessing varieties from overseas’ breeding programs and then selling them in Australia. With greater variation in our climate over the last 30 years and the challenges that climatologist are predicting in the future, imported varieties will not sustain our pasture industry.

The answer for our future lies in the past. A lot of the temperate pasture species developed in Australia were from collections of plants from north Africa and the southern Mediterranean region. These were identified as having similar climatic conditions experienced in the temperate areas of Australia. These regions are also close to the centre of the origin of most traditional pasture species. Many Australian public breeders targeted the Middle Eastern region for their collections.  These collections were trialled in Australia, parents were selected and crosses where made to create new varieties. Some of the old varieties developed in this way include Sirosa phalaris, Currie cocksfoot, Demeter fescue and Medea perennial ryegrass.

Traditionally, the method that was used to develop varieties was by natural selection. This was how Victorian ryegrass and Kangaroo Valley varieties were developed.  These varieties originated from seed imported from England in the 1850s. The climate in England is very different from most of temperate Australia; it has very cold winters and ideal conditions in summer for growth. Australia has most of its rainfall around winter and spring, where most of the growth occurs followed by hot summers where growth is limited. The plants from this seed from England grew here for over 100 years before plant collections were made. Natural selection occurred over time and changed these plants to grow more in the winter and less in summer to suit our climate.

These two methods used in the past can now be combined to create new pasture varieties in Australia. This is where farmers can be involved in the breeding of a new variety. You may know of paddocks of a pasture species or pasture trials that have been there for a long time without renovation. You may have noticed unusual plants on your farm or in the local area that you have thought would have potential as a pasture variety.

An example of this was the development of Camel perennial ryegrass. A farmer at St Arnard contacted Valley Seeds about an unusual looking perennial ryegrass growing on his farm. This ryegrass stood out because the annual rainfall of St Arnard is 550mm, well below the range that ryegrass persists in. These plants were collected and evaluated then further bred and developed into Camel perennial ryegrass.

The Australian pasture industry needs help from farmers to develop the next generation of persistent varieties. If you come across any plants that are of interest please call Anthony Leddin at Valley Seeds. Anthony is a MLA Young Scientist of the Year recipient and plant breeder for Valley Seeds. Call Anthony on 0408 333 046 or email  aleddin@valleyseeds.com and he will collect some plants to start the process of developing a new persistent and productive variety.

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