Commercialisation of elite lines of Microlaena stipoides as a perennial grain

Southern Cross University

  • Project code: PRJ-006615

  • Project stage: Closed

  • Project start date: Thursday, May 19, 2011

  • Project completion date: Tuesday, July 30, 2013

  • National Priority: NEPI-Incubate new and emerging plant industries, support breakthrough projects


The Australian native perennial grass, Microlaena stipoides, offers potential for the production of edible grains. It can be used as a single-species pasture where it can be grazed and harvested for grain or potentially as a companion plant within intensive horticultural applications, where it provides a shade tolerant ground cover that produces an annual grain crop. Either application provide supplementary income for the grazier or horticulturalist whilst retaining, or potentially enhancing, the productivity of their primary production.

This project aims to assess the performance of both mutant derived and selected breeding lines of Microlaena stipoides when grown as a companion plant firstly, in a coffee plantation and secondly, in agroforestry. The new breeding lines have been developed in programs funded both by the RIRDC (selection derived) and the ARC (mutation derived) and will take advantage of other RIRDC-funded work being developed to enhance germination of selected native grasses. Evaluation will take place on the new breeding lines to determine the most persistent and productive under the two different conditions.

A simple economic evaluation will be possible following this trial to determine the potential for this form of companion planting to enhance the economics of both coffee and agroforestry operations and will also be extrapolated for its utility in other intensive horticulture, such as orchards and vineyards. The results of this work, in both agronomic and economic terms, will be extended to relevant producer organisations by way of field days and publications.


New and Emerging Plant Industries

Research Organisation

Southern Cross University

Objective Summary

Our objectives address the NRP, An Environmentally Sustainable Australia, through increasing productivity and value adding through diversification, of currently cultivated agricultural land to adapt to climate variability, while increasing water use efficiencies.

New varieties of Microlaena stipoides have been developed under programs funded by the ARC – “Accelerated Domestication of Australian Native Grasses” completing in January 2011 and the RIRDC together with the GRDC and University of Western Australia – “Perennial grain crops for high water use – the case for Microlaena stipoides” which reported in 2005. Both these programs have developed breeding lines of Microlaena stipoides that have better seed retention, harvestability and grain yield than the wild species whilst retaining their intrinsic environmental adaptability to Australian conditions.

The next stage in the commercialisation of this grass as an alternative grain crop is to evaluate the productivity and economic benefits of these elite breeding lines under commercial conditions. This project will evaluate the ease of establishment of the various breeding lines, their persistence under the conditions of a coffee plantation in the first instance and then in agroforestry, the yield of the various breeding lines and their ease of harvest, as well as develop economic models for how this crop may be incorporated into these agricultural systems.

The overarching objective of this research is to undertake rigorous “on-farm” case studies for the commercialisation of Microlaena stipoides as an environmentally sustainable, water and nutrient efficient grain crop which increases the productivity of agricultural land and provides a new avenue for agricultural diversification.