Almond grant cracks huge American market

New Australian almonds crack into American market


Horticulture
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Almond researcher, Dr Michelle Wirthensohn received an Australian government priming grant to aid in the commercialisation of six new almonds breeds.

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Australian almonds will be moving into international markets after almond researcher Michelle Wirthensohn received an Australian government priming grant to aid in the commercialisation of six new almonds breeds, through a partnership with a Californian nursery. 

The grants, offered under the Global Connections Fund of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, are designed to connect researchers with overseas businesses to aid international product commercialisation. 

University of Adelaide researcher Dr Wirthensohn applied for the grant with her sights set on the world’s biggest almond growing region.

“(The United States) produce 80 per cent of the worlds almonds, we produce 7pc, so if we can get even a small part of their market, then it would again bring dollars back into Australia for research,” she said.

She has partnered with a small Californian company, Varieties International, that collects new cultivars from throughout the world and spreads them out to nurseries to try across a 10-year period.

“The money allows for meetings to take place, for me to go over there and visit, to pay for any set up costs that they may have, and for quarantine,” she said.

If you have a self-fertile tree, you are less reliant on bees. - Dr Michelle Wirthensohn

Dr Wirthensohn has been almond breeding for 18 years, having previously done molecular breeding work with olives and eucalyptus. In 2016-17, she released six new almond varieties, after crossing 85 different breeds and analysing nine years of data.

The breeding program started by request of the almond industry, which was looking to improve yield, disease and drought tolerance and self-fertility in Australian orchards.

“We try and get as much as we can into the breeding by crossing lots of different parents to get as many benefits as we can rolled into one seedling,” she said. 

When breeding began, there were no self-fertile almond trees in Australia, which meant orchards were split between the main variety, Nonpareil and other pollinators.

Of the six new varieties, four are self-fertile, a trait that will appeal to the US market, given the country has lost a lot of beehives to colony collapse disorder.

“If you have a self-fertile tree, you are less reliant on bees,” Dr Wirthensohn said.

One of the perks is also getting to name the almonds, Dr Wirthensohn opting for a star theme, instead of her original idea of car names.

“So there is capella, carina, maxima, mira, rhea and vela, so some of them were car names after all,” she said.

The breeds have been sold in Australia since 2016, with royalties going to funding body, Hort Innovations, and the university for breeding to continue

“Next we are aiming for disease tolerance and I’m hoping to do more molecular work to find markers, which will save a lot of money in the field,” she said. 

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