CSIRO and Cotton Seed Distributors (CSD) are this week celebrating the 10th anniversary of their Cotton Breeding Australia joint venture – a targeted research fund which, since 2007, has invested $101.7 million towards the research and breeding of future cotton varieties for Australian growers.

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The program was established with the aim of safeguarding the future development of the Australian cotton industry through long-term breeding and research projects, and has a projected shared investment of over $175 million by 2024.

CSD Managing Director, Peter Graham described the partnership between CSIRO and CSD as one of the most important relationships in the Australian cotton industry.

“The Cotton Breeding Australia joint venture formalised and strengthened a long and effective partnership between CSIRO and CSD, which began in 1971.

“Through CSD, CSIRO has released 113 cotton varieties to date – varieties which are high yielding, high quality, disease tolerant, widely adaptable and highly sought after globally by cotton mills. One hundred percent of the varieties grown in Australia today originate from CSIRO bred material.”

Director of CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Dr John Manners said the Cotton Breeding Australia model was a great example of collaborative research directly funded by industry, without additional grower levies or government funding.

“Both CSIRO and CSD recognise the importance of investing in innovation to ensure a robust and profitable cotton industry in Australia, today and well into the future.

“No other organisation in the world has been able to achieve the level of cotton research coordination and nationally beneficial research outcomes as those delivered through the Cotton Breeding Australia joint venture,” said Dr Manners.

In 2014, CSIRO commissioned an independent assessment of the economic, social and environmental impact and value of the Cotton Breeding Australia joint venture by ACIL Allen. This analysis forecast an additional future benefit of more than $379 million over the ten years from 2014 to 2024, based on increases in yield.

Further benefits associated with improved water use efficiency, reduced pesticide needs and increased international trade opportunities, are also expected.

The assessment showed that without CSIRO’s research, Australia would have suffered losses in productivity and a decline in cotton yields as a result of insecticide resistance. Australian growers would have become reliant on cotton varieties from other countries, which are not tailored to local conditions and do not provide tolerance to common problem cotton diseases found in Australia, such as Bacterial blight and Verticillium wilt.

The cotton breeding cycle from initial crossing to the commercial release of a new variety can take up to 14 years, making breeding a long term commitment from both breeding staff and Cotton Breeding Australia funding.

For the past eight years, CSIRO has been researching cotton’s natural resistance, and have developed ‘native traits’ that can be bred into cotton to provide tolerance to certain insect pests and diseases.

The first of these ‘native traits’ to be at the commercialisation stage is tolerance to Cotton Bunchy Top disease; a viral disease, spread by the cotton aphid. A severe outbreak of bunchy top in 1998-99 caused losses that were estimated to amount to around $70m.

These varieties are currently under large-scale evaluation on CSD’s research farm, with the first output from this technology potentially ready for release in the 2018/19 season. Similar host plant resistance research into Black root rot, Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, whitefly and two spotted mites are also under development.

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Kate Langford

Communication Manager

Ngaire Roughley

Communications Officer, CSD

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