Remote Nordic vault to protect Victoria’s food security

Posted by Josette Dunn on 12th January 2011

The Victorian Government will protect the future of Australian crops by making the first ever Australian germplasm deposit in the world’s most important seedbank reserve next month.Minister for Agriculture and Food Security Peter Walsh was at the Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) Horsham seedbank today as the package was sealed for transportation.

Mr Walsh said the seeds would be sent to Svalbard where they would be locked in an underground vault on a remote Nordic island.

“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a specially converted old mine 1300km from the North Pole in the Arctic Circle, north of Norway,” Mr Walsh said.

“The vault holds duplicate samples of seeds kept in genebanks across the world and has been designed to protect them in the event of a future disease and climate crisis.

“For the first time Australia will make a deposit in the vault as insurance against any loss to DPI’s vital Horsham Australian Genebank Grains collection.

Mr Walsh said DPI held the Australian genebank for oilseed and grain legume crops as part of the Australian Temperate Field Crops Collection.

“The collection includes over 34,000 ancient and traditional varieties from across the world including China, the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East and Europe which are kept at Horsham,” Mr Walsh said.

The first consignment of seed to be sent to Svalbard will consist of a batch of field peas (Pisum sativum) that were collected on a trip to China by DPI scientists, as well as some lines donated by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science (CAAS).

It will also contain some very rare chickpea (Cicer arietinum) lines recovered from an old Australian breeding collection.  Australia will eventually place germplasm samples of all field crops in the vault.

Wimmera cropper and scientist Dr Tony Gregson is set to join European-based Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) Dr Cary Fowler in Norway next month to make the historical first deposit on behalf of Australia.

Horsham DPI seedbank curator Bob Redden said the purpose of the back-up was to act as a safety for stocks of important seed lines. “It is vital to preserve such seeds or germplasm as all Australian field crops are imported species, but cropping conditions alter over time due to climate variation and new diseases and pests,” Dr Redden said.

“This then makes it very important to be able to revisit our original seed resource collections for genetic renewal of our crops.”

Dr Redden said the contents, which will remain under the department’s control in storage, had been inspected by Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), who will seal the box.

“The AQIS seal means that if the seed needs to be returned to Australia it can be brought back under AQIS supervision, and be immediately available for use,” Dr Redden said.