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New wheat variety Borlaug 100 impresses grain growers with high yields, drought tolerance

By Pip Courtney, Saturday October 24, 2020 - 08:41 EDT
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Grain growers are trying out a new seed variety called Borlaug 100. - ABC

Queensland's grain harvest is more than half completed and there's a lot of chatter about how a new wheat variety has performed.



Borlaug 100 promises farmers a big increase in yield over other varieties, even in drought.

Dalby agronomist Geoff Rudd said its performance surprised growers in south-east and central Queensland.

"It blew its competitors away, and up in the Central Highlands some of those yields were excellent," he said.

He said Derryck Mickelborough's crop at Dalby, two hours' west of Brisbane, was one of the best he had seen this season.



It was the third year Mr Mickelborough had planted Borlaug 100.

"2018 and 2019 here were two of the lowest rainfall years we've seen since the 1900s, but what that's done is shown us Borlaug 100 can still produce quality seed in tough times," Mr Mickelborough said.



With only 36 millimetres of rain on the crop, Damien Scanlan described the wheat's performance on his farm near Goondiwindi this year as "incredible".

"It's quite remarkable, we put the header in to have a look three weeks ago and we were running over 3.5 tonnes per hectare," he said.

"The header driver was astounded, so what it tells us is if we start with a full [soil] profile of moisture and get a near average season, this has got a huge motor and it can perform."

Filling a gap in the market

There's another reason growers are talking about the new wheat.

It's being sold by a small company formed by four Queensland grain growers, who didn't know each other until they met on an agricultural study tour in the United States in 2015.

Steve Gibson and Derryck Mickelborough travelled on to Mexico where they saw Borlaug 100 at a grain research centre, and shared their discovery with Andrew Butler and Damien Scanlan.



The four men, who farm hundreds of kilometres apart in south-east Queensland, were so impressed they secured the rights to commercialise it in Australia.

"We started out with a concept in a paddock in Texas and then that developed over a few beers at a brew pub in Manhattan," Mr Butler said.

They believe Borlaug 100 slipped under the radar in Australia because most plant breeding focused on varieties grown for human consumption, with premiums paid for high-protein levels.



The grain was sold mainly to cattle feedlots, which did not need high-protein varieties.

"You get paid per tonne; the more tonnes you can grow, the more money you make, and we haven't had a good variety for the animal feeding market in a long, long time," Mr Rudd said.

They saw a gap in the market and decided to fill it with the high-yielding variety, despite no experience in the seed industry.

"These things come along and you either grab the opportunity or you let it go by, and we don't try to let too many go by," Mr Butler said.

"We're after yield — that's where the profit is and that's where we see the future," Mr Gibson said.

Rebellious newcomers to the seed industry

They named their new business Rebel Seeds.

"It probably sums up our attitude, the fact that we're not status-quo people, that we're going to push boundaries," Mr Scanlan said.

"We don't have a big budget, pens, caps, or stubby holders; we just have a really good product and hope that product will sell itself."

Rob Bridle, a cattle and grain farmer with his own feedlot near Dalby, is one of more than 100 Queensland farmers who have bought the new seed variety.



He sowed Borlaug 100 on 80 per cent of his cropping land this year, after it out-yielded other varieties by up to 50 per cent last season.

"There's no doubt it's like having a couple of extra paddocks for free," he said.

"Having the quality and the yield potential of this variety makes it easier to sleep at night."

Borlaug 100 was bred in semi-arid conditions and offered hope during drought.



"The climate's tough for our area, and probably the simplest and easiest short-term adaption that we can get is a high-yielding variety," Mr Bridle said.

"It can be a gamechanger, and with our environment every little benefit you can squeeze out you need to take," Mr Gibson said.

Watch this story on ABC TV's Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on .


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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