New facility to help sustain global agriculture

Posted by James Ferre on 1st February 2010

One of the world’s most sophisticated plant research facilities – opened in Adelaide last week – is expected to make significant advances in international agricultural sustainability and deliver pronounced benefits to Australia’s agriculture and horticulture industries, according to researchers.

Based at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus, the $30 million facility known as ‘The Plant Accelerator’ is the largest and most advanced public facility of its type in the world and was jointly opened on Thursday by Premier Mike Rann and the Anthony Byrne MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister of Australia.

The “super greenhouse” will feature a series of 50 high-tech glasshouses and laboratories housing more than 1km of conveyor systems that will deliver plants automatically to state-of-the-art imaging, robotic and computing equipment.

This will allow continual measurement of the physical attributes (the phenotype) of up to 160,000 plants a year. The accelerator mode of this facility will come from its ability to more rapidly identify those varieties that will be successful, and therefore reduce the time between the breeding of new varieties and their delivery to agricultural producers, the university said.

Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Adelaide, Professor James McWha, said the facility would lead critical research into the yield and quality of crops that can tolerate drought, salinity and disease.

“This facility is an Australian first and is world class in every respect. It will improve international efforts to cultivate sustainable crops, as well as providing a competitive edge for Australia’s $28 billion annual agriculture export industry,” he said.

Director of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility Professor Mark Tester said the facility would provide ground-breaking opportunities for Australian scientists.

“Ultimately, this facility will enable researchers to respond faster to market needs and give Australia a head start in a field of research that will deliver practical benefits to Australian primary producers,” he said.

“We are confident that research conducted using this facility will lead to major discoveries that hold the key to solving some of the world’s greatest problems in food production and hence food security, particularly in the face of climate change.”