Research: Futureproofing the Aussie macadamia industry

Thursday, 11 July, 2024

Research: Futureproofing the Aussie macadamia industry

Futureproofing the burgeoning macadamia industry is the focus of a long-term breeding program led by researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ).

The National Macadamia Breeding and Evaluation Program at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is using genomic selection in the search for more efficient breeding systems for the nut.

Australia’s macadamia industry is expanding with 800 growers nationwide and more than 41,000 ha of orchards.

According to the Australian Macadamia Society, three-quarters of the crop is exported to the value of $300 million.

UQ’s Professor Bruce Topp said the research team is breeding new cultivars that are more profitable for farmers and is using a range of methods to speed up cultivar release.

“One of our aims is to improve efficiency by reducing the generation length or production time.

“It took more than 20 years to develop four new cultivars released in 2017, that replaced the 50-year-old cultivars before them.

“If we can halve the time it takes to produce a new variety, then we’re doubling the annual rate of genetic gain.

“We are expecting two new cultivars to be ready for release as early as 2025.”

Topp said the program was also focused on tackling the impact of climate change on the industry.

“In the past few years, we’ve planted trials in areas that are much warmer than the current production areas of northern NSW and around Bundaberg in Queensland,” Topp said.

“We have a large trial at Rockhampton in Central Queensland and another at Emerald in the Central Highlands.

“We’re selecting high-performing individuals in these warm climates that will mimic what production climates may be like in 20 years.

“Given that it can take 20 years to produce a new variety, we need to start taking the necessary steps now,” Topp said.

QAAFI’s Dr Mobashwer Alam is also using an Advance Queensland Fellowship to develop a cost-effective and fast-tracked breeding strategy exploiting unused wild macadamia genetic resources.

“With the help of AI, we aim to select gene markers that can be used for accurate genomic prediction for yield and plant size to directly benefit the development of Australian bred macadamia varieties.

“AI can also help us select the best parents for future crossbreeds.

“If this project is successful, we will be using only a small number of molecular markers which will drastically reduce the cost of genotyping,” Alam said.

Image caption: Dr Mobashwer Alam and Prof Bruce Topp investigating macadamia crop. Image credit: Megan Pope, University of Queensland.

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