Legislative Council: Thursday, October 19, 2023


Crop Trust BOLD Alfalfa Project

The Hon. T.T. NGO (14:59): My question is also to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development. Can the minister tell the chamber about recent developments with SARDI's involvement in the Crop Trust BOLD project?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (14:59): I thank the honourable member for his question. Led by SARDI's pastures project leader Dr Alan Humphries, the Crop Trust BOLD alfalfa project is a 10-year project to strengthen food and nutrition security worldwide by supporting conservation and use of crop diversity.

For those who are looking confused about the BOLD acronym, it stands for Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development. It brings together a number of partner countries to strengthen the conservation and use of wild relatives of commonly grown crop species to help farmers in developing nations adapt to climate change. SARDI's role in the project is to lead the only forage—pasture—program, working initially in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan but potentially expanding to sub-Saharan African countries within the next few years.

Dr Humphries and his team are working to help transition agriculture in these regions from irrigated to rain-fed, drawing on his experience in working on alfalfa crops—known as lucerne locally—in Australia, where over 80 per cent is grown without irrigation. This, combined with the fact that most lucerne in Australia is directly grazed by livestock, makes Australia globally unique and provides us with the skills and opportunities to work with countries that now face a future with less water.

Given lucerne's adaptability and diversity of habitat, it can be of benefit to small-holder farmers in developing nations because of its drought tolerance and also flexibility, with multiple harvest windows throughout a season. Lucerne has multiple end uses for many livestock classes and animals—cows, sheep, goats, chickens, horses, pigs and rabbits—and can be used to produce income from meat, milk, fibre, hay and seed.

In August, Dr Humphries led a group of scientists who visited the facilities of the Kazakhstan Research Institute of Agriculture and Plant Growing and travelled to nearby field evaluation trials of the Crop Trust BOLD lucerne project.

Following a symposium, where lucerne specialists from Chile, Australia, Germany, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan shared the latest research, the group travelled through south-east Kazakhstan and northern Kyrgyzstan, talking to farmers along the way who shared their concerns about the decrease in glacial ice melt that has resulted in not enough irrigation water to support their farming systems.

The work of Dr Humphries and his team is not only important to the future of farming in the countries I have mentioned but also has direct benefits to farming in South Australia. The hybrids between lucerne and the shrub medic being developed as part of the project have a higher winter production, forage yield and greater drought tolerance than existing commercial varieties and are now being used to develop a future variety for South Australia.

It also brings international recognition of the Australian Pastures Genebank (APG), located at SARDI, which is being used to supply germ plasm for the Crop Trust BOLD alfalfa project. The APG has the world's largest collection of Medicago, the lucerne genus. Opportunities exist to work in other Crop Trust programs supporting gene banks worldwide.

I thank Dr Humphries and his team for their incredible work that is benefiting farmers all over the world in some of the harshest conditions and that will have positive impacts in our own state and country. Once again, it shows SARDI expertise is held in high regard not only by South Australians but by countries around the world.