New rules a boost for plant breeders

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 10:52 12/07/2013
Thomas Chin
Fairfax NZ

THOMAS CHIN: "Farmers and our national economy will be the clear winners."

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Farmers are expected to benefit from plant breeders gaining easier access to pasture genetics at a germplasm centre holding more than 2000 species collected around the world.

New clearance procedures issued by the Ministry of Primary Industries will make it easier for plant breeders to tap into the country's largest collection of pasture genetics at the Margot Forde Germplasm Centre at Palmerston North.

Species of forage grasses, herbs and legumes are in the collection containing more than 65,000 seed samples mostly from areas with similar climates to New Zealand.

New Zealand Plant Breeding and Research Association (NZPBRA) manager Thomas Chin said breeders could access genetic material without having to go through costly and time-consuming post-clearance quarantine conditions.

He said the ministry was to be congratulated for issuing the new procedures to allow plant breeders and researchers access to new plant genetics and to improve existing pasture species.

"New plant and pasture varieties bred from the [centre] material with desirable traits that can withstand drought conditions, resist pests, produce more animal nutrition and deliver more yield means farmers and our national economy will be the clear winners."

The new rules will be in place in time for the coming growing season.

The NZPBRA will be required to ensure there are no diseases or problems linked to the seeds. Plants will have to be treated and inspected with records taken.

Chin said the conditions were acceptable to plant breeders as their future was at stake and no-one wanted a biosecurity risk.

"We could access any of the material we wanted before, but it came with all the extra compliance so new procedures have been more streamlined to ease access to the seed material. That means we can get access to new plant material more quickly which can ultimately deliver new and improved varieties for New Zealand farmers."

Quicker access is expected to result in new varieties being commercialised earlier. New varieties will still take take eight to 10 years to get through the breeding process and cost several million dollars to produce.

Seeds are held at the centre in a temperature controlled environment and safeguarded from pests, climate change and other threats.

New Zealand is a world leader in seed production with much of the growing centred in Mid Canterbury. Last year more than $168 million was made in seed exports.

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