WHEAT growers in frost-prone areas will soon have more variety options, with work continuing on the development of a dual-purpose awnless wheat variety.
The SA Grains Industry Trust-funded project has reached stage two - time of sowing trials - with the first of many line options expected to be commercially available within the next few years.
These varieties will differ from awnless wheats already on the market as they are being specially targeted for Australian Hard or Australian Premium White classification, whereas the awnless options at the moment are predominantly soft wheats.
LongReach plant breeder's pure seed manager Shafiya Hussein says the trial is in its fourth year, with three years spent breeding, selecting and refining germplasm.
The lines were based on a number of unreleased elite LongReach lines, as well as some market leaders, crossed with awnless varieties, including from the Australian Grains Genebank.
Before reaching stage two, the lines were selected for specific molecular markers and yield, with any 10 per cent below the average culled.
"We had a rigorous selection, based on yield, maturity, height and biomass - for hay production," she said.
Ms Hussein said biomass was particularly important, given its potential use for hay, so stage two results would continue to have this measured.
After the initial stage, there were 41 lines that moved onto the time of sowing trial, which has sites at North Bundaleer, Marrabel and Geranium.
We want an awnless wheat with a hard classification so it gives us a hay-cutting option without awns, but a hard wheat option if things go well.
A total of 60 lines were sown in two replicates at three different times - April 20, May 14 and June 15.
She said it was important that growers had options to mitigate frost.
Another aspect of this is in the gene selection of the lines, with 17 of the 41 options also having the FrB2 gene, which is associated with some frost-tolerance.
Ms Hussein said it would be interesting to calculate the effectiveness of this by further testing lines with Fr-B2 genes in an artificially induced frost chamber for rapid screenings.
She said new awnless varieties will offer growers the opportunity to grow a crop suitable for Australian Hard or Australian Premium White classification, but if frost does occur, the awnless status will enable it to be cut for hay.
Ms Hussein said there were some "early contenders" among the 41 lines of stage two and by stage three, that would be reduced to 20.
"By the end of the project, there should be a number of elite varieties for SA farmers wanting a dual-purpose awnless wheat," she said.
But even if only one line is initially released, the project's work will continue.
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"SAGIT and LongReach will continue to release awnless wheat for the next seven seasons from germplasm derived from the initial project," she said.
Jamestown grower David Cooper was among the farmers calling for plant breeders to produce this kind of variety option, with his support also extending to hosting the North Bundaleer trial site.
He said many of his flats were frost-prone, but the soft wheat market was quite limited, which made it unappealing.
"We want an awnless wheat with a hard classification so it gives us a hay-cutting option without awns, but a hard wheat option if things go well," he said.
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