Tamworth Agricultural Institute the forefront of world food production

All ears: Brett Lobsey inspects some millennial wheat lines being grown in the quarantine glass houses at the Tamworth Ag Institute. Photo: Gareth Gardner
All ears: Brett Lobsey inspects some millennial wheat lines being grown in the quarantine glass houses at the Tamworth Ag Institute. Photo: Gareth Gardner

One of Australia’s toughest border security zones is also striving to drought-proof the nation, and is situated right here in Tamworth.

The Tamworth Agricultural Institute is the frontline for any person, producer or organisation looking to import wheat, barley or oats into Australia, and until recently housed the entire Australian Winter Cereal Collection, which is now housed in Horsham.

The Department of Primary Industries-backed institute is also at the front line of research, working collaboratively to find the best and strongest varieties of all three cereals, with a focus on finding genes that are most suitable to Australian conditions, including drought and heat, but also frost, soil toxicity and disease resistance.

Professional officer Brett Lobsey said the lab currently held more than 43,000 wheat lines, 28,000 barley and more than 5000 oat, and also worked in partnership with the Grains Research Development Corporation.

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The quarantine process takes eight months as the seeds are planted and grown in quarantined glasshouses before being harvested for distribution.

Each year Mr Lobsey and technicians Gary Hinkelbein and Wayne Klepzig cultivate more than 3000 individual lines.

Those lines are used by both large seed companies and producers, universities and research centres, as well as hobby farmers and niche market suppliers.

“There is a lot of interest in primitive wheats at the moment to be used by artisan bakers; some of these strains are thousands of years old,” Mr Lobsey said.

“Since mankind learnt to cultivate seed and formed societies around producing food, those lines have continued for generations, and we are still growing those.”

While there is plenty of work going into studying crop lines from Africa and the Middle East for drought resistance, sustainability in general is the top priority.

“Ultimately we would like to find a perennial that produces seeds for years running,” Mr Lobsey said.

“A plant that can be harvested one season and then can have stock put over it without having to replant – creating a fully sustainable environment.

“It is possible, but it is just going to take a lot of commitment and farmers willing to give it a go. It is not an easy game being a farmer, as we all know, but it can happen.” 

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