Reserve an unsung resource

By Country News

One of the recurring themes in Dookie Diary has been the great interest that young people now have in agriculture and food.

And you may have seen the recent publicity on the successful Food and Fibre Careers Day held here when about 300 students participated including many from the Goulburn Valley.

We now have the feedback from those students and it’s really interesting to get an insight to their thoughts.

More than 80 per cent of attendees expressed an interest in studying/working in the food and fibre industry (please note, teachers).

When they responded on their favourite workshop for the day, the most common responses were: the agribusiness careers panel; indigenous foods and cooking; plant science; and bees. Food for thought indeed.

The bush reserve on our commercial farm here at the campus is an amazing, but perhaps undervalued, resource.

It comprises 270ha of native vegetation — mainly white box and grey box grassy woodland — vegetation types that are now rare in south-east Australia, as more than 98 per cent of the original distribution has been cleared or modified for agriculture.

There are about 166 native plant species in there and 111 native bird species, seven of which are classified as endangered.

A few weeks ago, we used the bush reserve for a practical class for our first-year students and were able to tap into some of its enormous value.

The theme was sustainability and I organised some exercises for the students that compared and contrasted the very different landscapes, biodiversity and soil and water systems of the reserve on one side of the fence, and the farmed paddocks on the other.

In one activity they recorded 31 bird species, including four on the endangered list.

Biodiversity and diversification are critical for sustainability on all farms.

The research spotlight this week is on lentils, a crop that can be profitable in the region, but also one that has been fighting an ongoing (and often losing) battle with the damaging fungal disease ascochyta blight, which can reduce yields and quality.

This problem has been exacerbated by the continual planting of high-yielding lentil cultivars on farms, but with a narrow genetic background for resistance to this devastating disease.

Our research team for the first time in Australia, has targeted the largely unexplored wild species of lentil that are known to be reservoirs of novel agronomic traits, including ascochyta blight resistance.

In his recently completed PhD studies here, Hari Dadu has isolated two accessions from a global lentil collection of wild species/landraces with high resistance to the most aggressive Australian isolates of ascochyta.

Additionally, he has transferred this resistance to a highly susceptible cultivar and tagged it on the genetic linkage map of lentil.

This will provide a helpful tool to lentil breeders for the development of ascochyta-resistant cultivars.