New Era for Oat Breeding: significant investment over the next five years to accelerate the National Oat Breeding Program


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The National Oat Breeding Program, backed by joint $5.4 million investment from AgriFutures Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) over five years, will be propelled into a new era under the leadership of commercial breeding company, InterGrain.

The $11.5 million* commercial breeding Program will provide new varieties for milling and hay oats, side-by-side, with a broad genetic base equipped to respond to the changing needs of Australian growers and exporters.

This Program is the only one of its type in the world and builds on research in hay and milling oat breeding by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), a division of the Department of Primary Industries and Regions.

AgriFutures Australia Managing Director John Harvey acknowledged SARDI’s leadership and importantly the commitment, and achievements of the breeding and technical staff.

“Firstly, I would like to acknowledge SARDI’s research in oat breeding for more than 25 years, and particularly for its leadership of the National Program since 2003. Under SARDI’s leadership, the Program has grown and continued to deliver high-quality grade hay and milling oat varieties for growers.”

“AgriFutures looks forward to working with the GRDC and InterGrain, building on the foundation of SARDI’s research and continuing to grow and maintain Australia’s competitive advantage into the future.”

GRDC Managing Director, Anthony Williams, said the outcome was a good example of how growers, through their Research Development Corporations, would be rewarded for upfront risk and investment.

“As significant cereal breeding expertise and capacity lies in the private sector, it’s fantastic that the oats industry has developed to the point where commercial breeding investment has been attracted,” said Mr Williams. “This is how commercialisation should work between RDCs and industry. The future looks very bright for oats in the growing ‘super food’ market.”

Following a competitive tender process, InterGrain was selected to lead the Program as it transitions to a full commercial model by 2025. As one of the leaders in cereal breeding in Australia, InterGrain has extensive experience in transferring public breeding programs into the commercial sector and developing them into commercially focused breeding programs. They have identified priority activities in the short, medium and longer-term, to build a best practice oat breeding program and deliver benefits to hay and milling oat growers.

Short term

  • Increasing population sizes and selection intensity
  • Reduced time for variety development cycle (using speed breeding and summer nurseries)
  • Improved seed delivery pipeline

Medium term

  • Develop and apply genomic selection methods
  • High throughput phenotyping of hay yield and quality

Longer term

  • Widen the oat gene pool

Strong engagement with the grain and hay value chains has been, and will continue to be, a key strength of the program as it enters a new era. This is critical to ensure the retention of markets and growth opportunities for Australian milling and hay oats globally and in the domestic marketplace.

South Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development David Basham said, “Investing in grains research to boost productivity and farm profits is important to the Marshall Liberal Government.”

“Research and development is a key component of the South Australian Grain Industry Blueprint, which aims to boost the sector to $6 billion by 2030.”

“The South Australian Research and Development Institute is a proven leader in oat breeding with the development and release of 17 oat varieties, including eight hay varieties, over the past 20 years.”

“These new oat varieties represent more than 80 per cent of the export hay produced, and nine milling varieties representing over 90 percent of milling oats. This includes the recent releases of Bilby and Koorabup,” said Minister Basham.

InterGrain’s strengths lie in variety breeding and market development, both in the domestic and international marketplace. InterGrain have strong research linkages across Australia and 50 research sites spread across the country, managing over 200,000 field plots annually.

InterGrain Chief Executive Officer Tresslyn Walmsley said, “We are excited to take the baton and lead the National Oat Breeding Program. We will work closely with SARDI over the coming 12-18 months as we transition the program to a commercial model and build on SARDI’s foundation research.”

“InterGrain brings new technologies to the National Oat Breeding Program, such as technology to enable genomic oat breeding at a very low cost. InterGrain has developed a genomics platform with high SNP call rates and imputation for its barley and wheat program and will look to create a similar genomics tools to create a game changing asset for oat breeding.”

“We are committed to continuing to work with industry to ensure national breeding targets are prioritised, on-farm productivity is increased, and market share, domestically and globally, continues to grow,” said Ms Walmsley.

The National Oat Breeding Program will be led by InterGrain, through funding from AgriFutures Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation, and supported by the Government of South Australia and the Western Australian Government.

* The $11.5 million investment includes a joint contribution of $5.4 million from AgriFutures Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation as well as $5.4 million from InterGrain and $750,000 from the Western Australian Agriculture Authority.

Background information

  • SARDI began breeding milling oats in the 1980s, and hay oats since 1998.
  • The National Oat Breeding Program (NOBP) was first established in 2003 as a single coordinated regional program to develop milling, feed grain and hay varieties for southern Australia. It consolidated State based investments in oat breeding into a single national program led by SARDI in partnership with AgriFutures Australia and the GRDC.
  • During the period the National Oat Breeding Program has released nine milling oat varieties (three dual purpose) and eight oat hay varieties.
  • In 2020, AgriFutures Australia, GRDC and SARDI agreed to test the market for interest from the commercial sector to ramp up the national oat breeding efforts for milling and hay oats and take oat breeding to a new level. Submissions were sought from commercial breeding companies or breeding consortia for future investment in breeding and release of milling and hay oat varieties in Australia.
  • Following a competitive tender process, InterGrain was selected to lead the Program as it transitions to a full commercial model by 2025.
  • In Australia, oats production averaged 1.28 million tonnes in the 10 years to 2018-19, ranging from 888,000 tonnes in 2018-19 to 2.26 million tonnes in 2016-17. About 20% is exported as whole grain, 16% is processed for domestic use or export, and 64% is retained on-farm or traded for stock feed.
  • The creation of the endpoint royalty system in the mid-nineties was the catalyst for the formation of a commercial breeding sector in Australia. This has transformed the breeding of winter cereals by attracting private investment, applying new technologies, introducing commercial focus and expertise, and achieving cost efficiencies of scale.

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