Scientists in Australia are working to give grain growers access to acid-tolerant chickpea varieties.
The four-year project aims to deliver higher yielding, acid-tolerant locally adapted chickpea varieties as a profitable pulse option for Australian growers. Project lead researcher and director of the Western Crop Genetics Alliance Professor Chengdao Li says that currently acidic soils are a significant limitation towards improving chickpea productivity in Australia.
“In growing regions such as Western Australia, over 75 per cent of cropping areas have acidic soils in the top or sub soils”, Professor Li points out. “With the exception of lupins, legumes do not usually adapt well to these soils. We estimate that chickpea varieties with tolerance to acidic soil could help expand Australian chickpea production into an additional 1.2 million hectares.”
The project is a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) investment, and led by Murdoch University in partnership with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in Western Australia (DPIRD) and Agriculture Victoria.
Building on previous research by the University of California, chickpea progenies from crosses between different species were imported through the Australian Grains Genebank. The project is evaluating these lines in Western Australian environments.
Researchers are also examining genetic factors that influence acid tolerance, specifically tolerance to aluminium toxicity, to develop new, locally adapted chickpea germplasm which will be used by the national chickpea breeding program to develop varieties with acid soil tolerance.
In addition, they will evaluate these new lines with acid soil tolerance in diverse environments in western, southern, and northern Australia. Professor Li says the team is working to identify key genetic markers that will help breeders and researchers to accelerate and transfer tolerance genes into new chickpea varieties for growers.
Trials are underway in Merredin in Western Australia this season, led by DPIRD grains genetic improvement manager Dr Darshan Sharma, testing the imported lines on Western Australian soils. Once key genes for acid tolerance have been identified, the next step will be to undertake an accelerated breeding process, to rapidly develop new locally adapted genetic material, to test in growers’ paddocks.
GRDC senior manager of genetic technologies – pulses, Dr Francis Ogbonnaya, says the project will facilitate chickpea production expansion on soils where acidity currently precludes chickpea cultivation. “We anticipate that breeders will be deploying these tools in breeding programs within the next four years.”