AUSTRALIA’S end point royalty system has served the wheat industry well and will continue to drive research and development advances according to Hadyn Kuchel, chief executive of grain breeder AGT.
Speaking at last week’s Australian Grains Industry Conference, Dr Kuchel said while larger biotechnology businesses globally had focused on easier to work with crops such as corn and soybeans, the Australian wheat industry had gained a head start due to the use of EPRs.
“In regards to wheat, we are the only ones with this system, it drives us to remain competitive globally,” Dr Kuchel said.
“The Canadians are starting to do something similar but we are ahead and that is a real advantage.”
Dr Kuchel said he felt current rates for EPRs were about right.
“The EPR has to be in line with what we can demonstrate in terms of value, and that can range from $3 a tonne for an APW type wheat to perhaps $3.50/t for a hard wheat – we think that is fair, it has not moved much over the past seven years.”
“Other breeders are up around the $4/t and personally I think that is getting a bit high, but it all comes down to what the farmer sees value in.”
In spite of being a small market on the global scale, Dr Kuchel said he thought Australia was punching above its weight on the research and development front.
“Australia has a nifty system and a good product.”
“Things like molecular marking are really helping us do our breeding better.”
“We’ve been using it for 15 years and it enables us to work quicker and lower the cost of producing a new variety.”
“With genomics we are able to predict a lot regarding disease resistance, yield and other traits.”
“It is allowing us to do things we couldn’t with traditional selection.”
He said two technologies would allow plant breeders to make further gains.
“Our big constraint is when we don’t have the genetic variation we need within the target species.”
“You could look for something to bring in from a closely related species or you could use genetic modification, which we have seen in crops like corn, cotton and canola.”
He said another technology the sector was excited about was gene editing, where the plant genome was altered.
“If you tweak a particular sequence of DNA then you can get the trait you want.”
Dr Kuchel said regulation would play a big role in how quickly the technology was taken up in Australia.
“There is currently work going on to assess whether products made using gene editing will be classified as a GMO or not.”
In terms of industry signals to plant breeders, Dr Kuchel said a more thorough approach to the quality requirements of key customers would be welcomed.
“We really need to think what will China want in 15 years, it takes us a lot of time to get new varieties ready, and we need to really drill down into what is wanted.”
“Our system, post deregulation, it has been a great custodian of quality, but maybe we are not getting the market intelligence as well as we could.”
“For example, there is the focus on high protein wheat, we need to know what kinds of protein, do they want high water absorption or lower, do they want high starch levels, we need to look beyond just the basic quality traits.”