New structure announced to accelerate rice breeding in Australia

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A new entity Rice Breeding Australia (Ltd) has been established to drive development of new varieties for the Australian rice industry, with an increased focus on water productivity improvements and acceleration of rates of genetic gain in rice breeding in Australia. A joint venture between AgriFutures Australia, the SunRice Group and the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia (RGA), Rice Breeding Australia aims to drive rice breeding into the future.

The Australian rice industry has recently mapped a pathway for its future with the launch of the Rice Program Strategic Research, Development and Extension Plan (2021- 2026). The five-year roadmap recognises that significant improvements in the water productivity of rice farming systems in Australia are of the highest priority. The Australian rice industry has set itself an aspirational target of producing 1.5 tonnes of rice per megalitre of water within five years.

An important part of achieving this goal is the establishment of Rice Breeding Australia. Rice Breeding Australia was established on 1 June 2022 as a not-for-profit company, with membership from AgriFutures Australia, the SunRice Group and the RGA. The new company will embed a commercial focus and introduce state-of-the-art breeding technologies to accelerate the development of new varieties that meet the needs of discerning consumers and market requirements, with increased water productivity and improved cold tolerance.

Chairman and Independent Director of Rice Breeding Australia, Dr Steve Jefferies brings a wealth of experience to the role having most recently been the Managing Director of the Grains Research and Development Corporation from 2016 to 2020 and prior to that, the inaugural CEO of Australian Grain Technologies Pty Ltd, Australia’s largest and market-leading plant breeding company.

Dr Jefferies hopes to build on the long and successful history of rice breeding in Australia and develop new, more water-productive varieties to secure a strong future for the industry.

“The aim of Rice Breeding Australia is to provide new energy and a commercial focus to rice breeding so that it can be a key part in achieving the major transformation in water productivity and ultimately be an important contributor to the long-term viability of the Australian rice industry”, he said.

Dr Jefferies explained that the company will operate out of the Riverina region of New South Wales, where more than 98% of Australia’s rice production occurs.

“Rice Breeding Australia is committed to the long-term future of the Australian rice industry and as such it plans to remain based in the heartland of the Australian rice industry in the Riverina region in southern NSW”, he said.

“The company will continue to develop new rice varieties for all Australian rice production areas and will do this from this base”.

Rice Breeding Australia has also just announced its inaugural Chief Executive Officer, Dr Georgina Pengilley, who will be responsible for the overall strategy and management of the company. Georgina is an experienced leader with a strong focus and commitment to delivering on the ground, and a passion for community, agriculture, and education. Georgina’s most recent role as Leader of Pulses and Oilseed – North for NSW Department of Primary Industries saw her lead a team that transformed chickpea breeding in Australia to the largest scale and most state-of-the-art chickpea breeding program in the world, indicating that the future of rice breeding is in very safe hands.

“I am excited about the opportunity I have been given by the Board of Rice Breeding Australia to build on the successes of the past and develop it into a world-leading breeding program. I am looking forward to working closely with the rice industry to drive transformational change that will build long term sustainability, while continuing to see Australia as a global leader in rice production and quality”, she said.

Other Directors of Rice Breeding Australia are David Keldie (SunRice Group), Graeme Kruger (RGA), and Roseanne Healy (AgriFutures Australia).

Rice Breeding Australia will work closely with other organisations involved in agronomic research, pre-breeding research, AgTech development and more towards achieving the Australian rice industry’s water productivity goal.

For more information about the AgriFutures Rice Program, visit the AgriFutures Australia website.

Chairman and Independent Director of Rice Breeding Australia, Dr Steve Jefferies and Chief Executive Officer, Dr Georgina Pengilley

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