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NZ, Aust scientists collaborate for better pasture

NZ, Aust scientists collaborate for better pastures

For immediate release
1 April 2008

Leading New Zealand plant breeder Agriseeds has joined forces with world-class Australian scientists and the NZ government on a $6 million research project to produce better pastures for NZ farmers.

They will spend the next five years developing pastures that are more water efficient, with better heat tolerance, stronger insect resistance and improved animal health.

These will be suited not only to NZ, but also Australia, and Agriseeds other temperate climate export markets.

The project begins in July this year and will use microscopic fungi known as endophytes to enhance the performance of perennial ryegrass, NZ’s most widely sown pasture plant.

Agriseeds has invested $1.5 million in the project, with $3 million contributed by the Molecular Plant Breeding CRC, the Australian research group which will carry out much of the requisite scientific work.

NZ Trade & Enterprise is matching Agriseeds’ investment with $1.5 million of Crown funding for the project, via the Australia NZ Biotechnology Partnership Fund. Economic Development Minister Pete Hodgson announced the grant last night at the NZBio conference in Auckland.

Agriseeds marketing director Murray Willocks says the project is important news for the 85,000 NZ farmers involved in sheep, beef and dairy production, promising faster delivery of new and different endophytes.

“We’ve had a long relationship with the Molecular Plant Breeding CRC, largely focused on research which enhances pasture performance.

“The institute has outstanding science capability world-class and for that reason we began working with it on endophyte development two years ago, as we needed to find an offshore partner for this research.

“The extra Crown investment that has just been announced means farmers will benefit from the results of that research much more quickly than if it continued to be solely privately funded.

“Endophytes are very, very important in pastoral farm systems. Because of their relationship with plant survival and performance, they hold the key to increased farm productivity through increased milk and meat production.”

The types of endophyte targeted by the new project may also make ryegrass more adaptable to harsh conditions, so it can be sown in regions where currently it does not survive.

Murray Willocks says the potential of ryegrass endophytes to improve the economics of farming has yet to be fully realised by NZ farmers and scientists.

“A small number of endophytes has already been commercialised in NZ, with some exciting results for farmers. But this is just the beginning. Agriseeds has invested heavily in endophyte technology since it became available in NZ. We believe this is vital for pastoral farming.”

Heading the new collaborative endophyte development project in Australia will be Professor German Spangenberg, Chief Scientist of the Molecular Plant Breeding CRC.

Regarded as Australia’s leading researcher into pasture genetics and genomics, he’s based at the Victorian AgriBiosciences Centre, Melbourne, where he is the Executive Director of the Biosciences Research Division of the Victorian Department of Primary Industries.

Agriseeds staff at its research farm in Canterbury will also work on the endophyte project, Murray Willocks says.

“We are very excited about this development. Agriseeds’ core business is providing farmers with the best pastures they can grow. Being awarded government funding for further endophyte research means we will be even better placed to deliver those pastures in the future.”

537 words

Notes for Editors:

About Agriseeds

Agriseeds is a plant breeding company that has specialised in developing advanced new pastures for the past 20 years. It supplies pasture varieties to dairy, sheep, beef and deer farmers throughout New Zealand, and the world. With a 160 ha research farm, nearly 40 staff and annual turnover of $22 million, including exports, Agriseeds focuses on enhancing the profitability of grassland production by providing farmers with the best pastures they can grow. The company has recently expanded into seed coating, and supplying a wide range of brassica varieties. It is part of the Royal Barenbrug Group, one of the world’s largest grass seed organisations.

About the Australia New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund

The ANZBPF is administered by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) and is intended to accelerate growth in the New Zealand biotechnology sector through facilitating joint activities in biotechnology development, marketing and manufacturing. It has granted close to $4 million (including GST) in its latest funding round, including the $1.5 million awarded to Agriseeds for endophyte research.

About the Molecular Plant Breeding CRC.

The Molecular Plant Breeding CRC conducts leading international research into molecular breeding of pastures and cereal crops. The CRC was formed in July 2003 under the Cooperative Research Centres Program funded by the Commonwealth Government of Australia.
It aims to develop molecular technologies for plant breeding and implement effective strategies for their use in cereal and pasture plant improvement programs. The technologies developed by MPBCRC are being commercialised and delivered through the involvement of breeding organisations and seed companies in Australia and around the world.
MPBCRC’s head office is based at the Victorian AgriBiosciences Centre on the La Trobe R&D Park in Bundoora, Melbourne, and its 200 research staff are located at various core and participant organisations in Melbourne, Adelaide, Horsham, Hamilton, Perth, Mexico and Syria.
Being one of the largest agricultural CRC’s, it administers total research funding of over A$150 million over 7 years.

About endophyte development

Ryegrass endophytes are naturally occurring fungi which live inside the cells of ryegrass plants. They produce a variety of chemicals which help protect the plant from insect attack but which can also cause animal health problems. New endophytes developed in NZ combine pest protection with improved animal health and performance. AgResearch and Pyne Gould Guinness Wrightson have an exclusive partnership covering endophyte research and development in NZ.


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