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New feed variety from CLIMA

LEADING WA researchers have developed a new strain of the drought-tolerant and waterlogging tolerant grasspea, which is also non-toxic to humans and animals

The new strain is expected to provide relief to the WA livestock industry suffering from drought-inflated feed prices, which have doubled in the past year.

The advances in new varieties developed by the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) has been taken up by the Federal Government-sponsored Australian Centre for Inter-national Agricultural Research, which promotes Australian advances in agriculture internationally.

CLIMA researcher Colin Hanbury visited Nepal recently to promote the impending WA release of the durable new variety of the legume lathyrus sativus, commonly known as ‘grasspea’.

Dr Hanbury said the grasspea normally contained the neurological toxin ODAP, which can paralyse animals and humans if taken in high concentrations.

“Known as lathyrism, the condition occurs mainly in Nepal, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and India,” he said.

The new variety is safe to eat and is currently being trialled in Nepal. It is due for commercial release in Western Australia.

CLIMA, which operates from the University of WA, has been working on the project for a number of years with CSIRO Livestock and Industries.

CLIMA deputy director Clive Francis said if the variety was found to suit conditions in Bangladesh and Nepal, where grasspea was the most common legume, it could help avert local health concerns.

“Their grasspea has more than twice the recognised safe level of ODAP. This causes health problems when drought eliminates other foods and leaves locals at the mercy of a complete, unregulated grasspea diet,” Professor Francis said.

CLIMA has a budget in 2002-03 of $5.2 million on legume research, of which around 12 per cent is provided by ACIAR.

More recently CLIMA has indicated that it was making a concerted effort to identify potential drivers in demand for lupins and other pulses in the next decade.

Grain Pool of WA chairman and Wongan Hills farmer Robert Sewell told a recent meeting of the CLIMA Industry Advisory Group that meeting the complex specifications of new and existing markets, while also suiting local farming conditions and delivering profitable yields, was a major challenge for local breeders and agronomists.

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