A new research centre based at The Australian National University (ANU) will train the next generation of scientists to develop more resilient crops and significantly grow Australia’s agricultural sector.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for Accelerated Future Crop Development is one of 16 new projects designed to tackle key global challenges in areas like energy, agriculture and biomedicine.

The ARC Training Centre for Accelerated Future Crop Development will research the development of more resilient crops. Photo: Supplied

The ANU-based centre will be led by Professor Barry Pogson, with $5 million in funding coming from the ARC. Another approximate $5 million will come from research and industry partners.  

“This centre will be internationally transformational in accelerating genetic improvement in crops,” Professor Pogson said.

“It will create a new generation of leaders focused on both the advanced technology needed to achieve this, and the socio-economic issues involved.

“Their work will lead to high-value and more resilient crops, better equipped to deal with our harsh environment.”

Professor Pogson says this type of research should be a top priority for Australia.

“Australia’s $34 billion crop industry accounted for one-third of GDP gains in 2017, but production is halved in harsh seasons; the frequency of which are increasing.

“Traditional breeding alone will simply not be sufficient for the 60 per cent rise in food production needed by 2050 to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“Given the advanced nature of the technologies, responsible innovation will be core to the centre.”

Director of the ANU Centre for the Public Aware of Science, Professor Joan Leach, said the new centre will better connect research and industry to drive agricultural innovation, as well as enhance society’s understanding of the benefits and risks of these new technologies.  

“We want to ensure the next generation of researchers can anticipate the social impacts of their work and are active participants in important public debates, as well as contributors to discussions about policy and regulation,” Professor Leach said.

The centre is a collaborative effort to transform industry with 20 local and international partners from across the research, industry and commercial agri-tech sectors. Partners include the University of Adelaide, CSIRO and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Osman Mewett, CEO of Australian Seed Federation said: “The Australian seed industry welcomes this opportunity to partner with Australia’s leading plant scientists, research institutes and breeding companies.

“Together we will collaborate on industry-relevant training for PhD students and early career researchers on the importance of functional gene technology regulation to facilitate the adoption of plant breeding innovations, such as gene editing.”

Dr Aanandini Ganesalingam, Research & Business Development Manager at InterGrain added: “As a cereal breeding company InterGrain are excited that the Australian grains industry will be united behind this opportunity to explore and optimise the use of New Breeding Technologies for the benefit of the Australian grains industry.”

“New South Wales Department of Primary Industries is thrilled to be a partner in the Training Centre for Accelerated Future Crop Development,” NSW DPI Chief Scientist Dr Phil Wright said.

“The application of these new technologies will fast track the genetic improvement of key agricultural crops, underpinning the continued growth of our industries and enhancing their resilience to global challenges such as drought. The Centre provides a clear pathway through responsible research innovation to the delivery of improved cultivars that will benefit the community and open new markets. DPI staff will develop new research skills and cement new and existing partnerships in this emerging field of science.”

For more information about the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Program please visit the ARC website.

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