THE FLAT plains to the west of Horsham do not as a rule attract a large number of international visitors.
However, some international guests, in the form of novel wheat germplasm are having a big impact in trials conducted throughout the area.
InterGrain national early generation wheat breeder Allan Rattey said valuable material from the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA Germplasm Evaluation (CAIGE) project was brought into Australia on a regular basis.
"The material is chosen from either CIMMYT (based in Mexico) or ICARDA (based in Morocco) in alternate years and then evaluated in Australian breeding programs," Dr Rattey said.
"We are already seeing some of the novel material incorporated into varieties that have gone commercial in Australia.
"For instance, our Vixen wheat variety contains 25pc genetic material from CIMMYT.
Dr Rattey said the international material was important in helping InterGrain design a variety that was suited to eastern Australia. "We've always had a very strong focus on Western Australia, but obviously weather patterns and soil types are vastly different, with much heavier soils on the east coast.
"By using some CIMMYT material during breeding, we have been able to select a variety more suited to those heavier soil types."
Dr Rattey also said the CIMMYT material provided valuable genetic diversity and had helped improved disease resistance, in particular to stripe and leaf rusts.
In spite of all the innovation within plant breeding, the selection process is still long and tedious.
Single plants in the trial exhibiting good characteristics are identified one at a time, painted blue for identification purposes and then hand-harvested.
Each wheat plant produces around 40-60 grams of grain, between 1000 and 1500 seeds which are then used for the next generation towards commercialisation.
Dr Rattey said further crosses were being made all the time in the bid to find promising new lines.
"For instance, we've got a population by crossing our Vixen and RockStar varieties, that will be 1/8th CIMMYT material.
"We'll choose hundreds of good plants from that cross for field trials next year, and select amongst these over the subsequent 5-6 years to hopefully develop a new variety."
Interestingly, from an early generation breeding point of view the new lines making a splash among farmers are already old news. "We've almost finished using Vixen as a parent in our breeding program and are making new crosses with unreleased material.
By the time a variety comes to commercialisation we're already using new parental material from continuous recurrent breeding and selection in order to come up with future genetic improvements," Dr Rattey said.