Breeding superior almonds for a growing industry

This story was orginally posted in News from the University of Adelaide, Monday, 20 May, 2013

Almonds. Image courtesy of Dr Michelle Wirthensohn

Almonds. Image courtesy of Dr Michelle Wirthensohn

More nutritious almonds for consumers and a greater range of high-quality varieties for industry – these are the aims of the Australian Almond Breeding program at the University of Adelaide, which has just received industry funding of $2.35 million to continue developing new almond varieties.

The almond breeding program, based in the School of Agriculture, Food & Wine at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus, is the only one of its kind in Australia.

The new project, which will cost $2.35 million over five years, has been funded by Horticulture Australia Ltd using the Almond Industry levy and matched funds from the Australian Government. This funding will enable the program to run commercial trials of promising almond selections already developed at the Waite Campus.

“Australia is now the second biggest producer of almonds in the world, with most being exported to India. Our goal is to increase current production by 15% in the next five years, and to decrease the reliance on existing cultivars over the next 10 years, to allow the industry to take advantage of this growing market,” says the leader of the Australian Almond Breeding program, Dr Michelle Wirthensohn, a Horticulture Australia Research Fellow at the University.

Dr Wirthensohn says the major challenges for the almond industry are kernel yield and quality, disease tolerance and self-fertility.

“The best almond variety currently in Australia is Nonpareil, which needs other varieties and bees for pollination. This means that up to half of the trees in some orchards are less productive, and potentially decreasing bee populations could limit production even further, which places the industry at some risk,” she says.

“That’s where our breeding program will have benefits for industry, by providing a bigger range of almond varieties, by improving the productivity of those varieties, and at the same time producing a more nutritious almond for the consumer.”

Dr Wirthensohn says the program currently has a number of promising breeding lines in large-scale trials, which have been developed from crossing Australian, Spanish, French and American cultivars.

“We expect to release up to five superior almond varieties by 2018,” she says.

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