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19 July, 2021 Feature Articles

Developing High-Performing Varieties for Almond and Macadamia Growers

Developing High-Performing Varieties for Almond and Macadamia Growers


Below we take a closer look at two projects in the Hort Innovation breeding portfolio, where significant progress has been made for the almond and macadamia industries.


By Dr. Vino Rajandran
 
Dr. Vino Rajandran is a Research and Development Manager at Hort Innovation, the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australia’s horticulture industry. Dr. Rajandran manages the breeding and biotechnology portfolios, which includes over 30 research and development projects that are developing high-performing varieties with improved consumer and agronomic traits, as well as novel technologies to improve the productivity and profitability of Australian horticulture.

As one of the nation’s 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations, Hort Innovation is tasked with investing horticulture levies and Australian government initiatives to help the industry be as productive and profitable as possible.

Self-Fertile Almond Varieties 

In a world-leading research project funded by Hort Innovation, Australian scientists have successfully bred self-fertile almond varieties for growers that are not entirely reliant on bees for pollination. The longitudinal project centered around the industry’s breeding program first began in 1997 and has since successfully produced four almond varieties that are self-fertile. 
 
The objective of the program is to develop new high yielding self-fertile almond varieties with improved tree architecture, closed shell and disease resistance. The first iteration of the program started more than two decades ago, and the aim was to identify and breed new varieties so growers could have better long-term options. Back then there were only a few old varieties and they lacked a strong taste profile and were mostly used for processing. 
 
There was a need to investigate a way to create a sustainable domestic almond industry that was robust and resilient and could thrive in a number of challenging conditions. Disease resistance was important, as was producing high yield with the same water use. A focus was given to breeding varieties that would meet all of the industry’s standards and have successfully completed field trials, which have shown that these varieties will set fruit without any insect intervention. 
 
The breeding program is now aiming to produce varieties which are resistant to diseases such as almond hull rot, which costs the industry millions of dollars in production losses each year, and bacterial spot disease, both common plant diseases that affect plant productivity. 
 
The program is also looking to increase the diversification of current varieties for the almond industry by 2023; incorporating a selection of new self-fertile varieties with larger kernels, higher yields; and improved pollinators for Nonpareil. 
 
This Hort Innovation Almond Fund investment utilises cutting-edge breeding technologies to develop new and innovative varieties with traits like self-fertility and precocity to enable early production, while driving resource-use efficiencies through improved yields. 
 
The investment in transformational breeding technologies shortens the time taken to produce a new variety for Australian growers. The Australian almond industry is expected to grow significantly over the coming years with this year’s production estimated at 123,000 metric tons. The development of new varieties will give growers more choice for their new plantings and re-plantings, while increasing productivity per hectare and driving sustainability. 
 
The new almond industry varieties (Maxima, Carina, Capella, Mira, Rhea and Vela) are now available to Australian growers through several nurseries or contact the Almond Board of Australia. 

Tree Genomic Program Sequences 300 Macadamia Varieties 

The National Tree Genomics program funded by Hort Innovation is in the final stages of sequencing over 300 macadamia wild and cultivated varieties. The national program harnesses cutting-edge genetic technologies for the benefit of Australian horticultural tree crop industries. New tools are currently being developed that will equip Australian plant breeders to deliver new varieties with key productivity and profitability traits. New tools will also stem from this program for growers to enhance farm productivity. 
 
The program involves separate components working together to deliver a deeper understanding of the relationship between tree crop traits and their underlying genetics and genetic mechanisms. 

Sequencing diverse wild and cultivated varieties is extremely important, as the new knowledge gained from this research will allow the Australian industry to explore new and innovative ways to boost productivity and profitability through genetics. The Hort Innovation Macadamia Breeding Program will be critical in converting this new knowledge into new varieties for Australian growers. 
 
CEO of the Australian Macadamia Society Jolyon Burnett said, “The national breeding program is one of the most significant investments the industry is making in R&D. We are investing because we are confident that we can build on the genetic diversity in the wild macadamia trees to develop new cultivars with improved attributes for both growers and global consumers. These improved varieties should give Australian growers a competitive advantage over macadamia growers in other countries and see Australian macadamias remain the best of the best.”  
 
The program is working with various industry partners to assemble an extensive map of the genetic make-up of the nation’s five leading tree crops, and this will give us a more precise basis for breeding future crops for specific key traits. 
 
Macadamia is the second-biggest export nut in Australia after almonds, with an export value predicted to be $350 million by 2025.
 
For more information on Hort Innovation’s 500+ projects for the Australian horticulture industry, visit our website at www.horticulture.com.au 
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