Mount Gambier key for tree breeding programme

Friday 11 Sep 2020

An elite selection of trees in South Australia have been hard at work during baby-making season to create better genetics for plantation timber. The radiata pine trees have been chosen for Australia's only softwood breeding research and gene conservation site located in Mount Gambier and run by national forestry cooperative Tree Breeding Australia.

General manager Tony McRae said the aim of the site was selective breeding for plantation trees. "They're not just any babies, they're coming from the very best parents that have very good characteristics," he said. "Some of the babies will have even better genes than their parents, so that will enable us to identify those and increase the productivity in future generations of plantations."

However, these seeds will not make it to commercial plantations; instead, they will be planted in trials across the nation to track their genetic success. Researchers study the trees over their life for attributes such as wood quality and growth rate, and the information will further develop genetics available for plantation companies.

"We plant up to 9,500 seeds [in each trial] which are genetically unique, coming from some 300 different families," Dr McRae said. "We will combine that data with trials which have been planted in previous years or decades … we're generating new data on a daily basis."

He said that from there, the best genetics are brought back to the breeding site. "Out of the hundreds of thousands that we have in the trials, we might bring in 30 to 50 new parents, so we know the good parents based on performance out in the trials." It takes roughly two years to get viable seeds, from first pollination until pinecones are harvested, and pollination can only happen in a narrow six-week window.

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Photo: Tree Breeding Australia's pine technician David McKersie and general manager Tony McRae inspect the completed cross-pollination.(ABC Rural: Bridget Herrmann)

Source: ABC

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