• Professor Bruce Topp and Dr Mobashwer Alam investigating macadamia crops.
Source: University of Queensland
    Professor Bruce Topp and Dr Mobashwer Alam investigating macadamia crops. Source: University of Queensland

Researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) are focused on protecting the future of the Australian macadamia nut industry, through a long-term breeding program using genomic selection.

A rapidly expanding industry in Australia, the macadamia industry has over 800 growers nationwide and more than 41,000 hectares of orchards. According to the Australian Macadamia Society, three quarters of the crop is exported – to a value of $300 million.

The National Macadamia Breeding and Evaluation Program at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), a research institute at UQ, is looking into creating more efficient breeding systems for macadamia nuts.

UQ professor, Bruce Topp, said that the research team are breeding new cultivars that are more profitable for farmers and are 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,” he said.

“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.”

The National Macadamia Breeding and Evaluation Program is funded by Hort Innovation, using the Macadamia Research and Development levy, contributions from the Australian Government and co-investment from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The program is focused on tackling the impact of climate change on the industry. It can take 20 years to produce a new variety through natural processes, and with climate uncertainty a critical issue, it is important to start as soon as possible.

“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,” said Topp.

“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.”

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,” said Alam.

“AI can 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. If we reduce that cost from 50 to 70 dollars per sample to 10 or 12 dollars, this can bring significant genetic gain to the industry in a short time.”

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