Field Crop Improvement Centre

Developing quality field crops to meet market demands.


The Field Crop Improvement Centre (FCIC) provides South Australia with impressive capabilities in field crop research, based at the Waite Research Precinct, Urrbrae, South Australia.

It consists of an integrated breeding, agronomic and quality evaluation centre for plant improvement, supported by world-class biotechnology capabilities.

The FCIC is committed to ensuring that grain producers throughout Australia remain competitive in local and export markets. The Centre achieves this by developing improved cereal and pulse varieties which enable high and sustainable on-farm productivity, and which meet increasingly stringent market quality product specifications.

The Centre has a full range of facilities, highly skilled staff and infrastructure necessary to remain at the forefront of plant improvement. These include world class capabilities in applied plant molecular biology and tissue culture, supporting rapid plant breeding and evaluation programs. These programs utilise the latest methodologies in pest and disease screening and grain quality assessment. The Centre supports full field evaluation of potential new varieties at over 70 sites throughout South Australia, hastening the release of new crop varieties that meet market demands.

Emphasis on quality products to market demands

There is increasing pressure on world grain markets to meet stringent quality product specifications. The FCIC is in an ideal position to respond to these market demands.

South Australia is renowned for its clean crop growing environment which produces grains well suited to key markets and end products. The FCIC adds value to quality production by ensuring that all improved cereal and pulse varieties released produce grain which has all the necessary quality characteristics.

The Centre maintains important links with other quality laboratories within Australia and has world class expertise in the full range of grain quality testing procedures. These tests include:

  • Laboratory scale testing to support the early selection of quality genotypes
  • Small scale testing, simulating commercial product development to eliminate poorer quality lines prior to commercial release
  • Non-destructive single grain analyses for certain parameters indicative of end product quality

Major items of equipment located in the Centre include:

  • Baking ovens for pan and flat bread
  • Buhler and Quadrumat mills
  • Digital density meter
  • Colour meters - Kent Jones and Minolta
  • Cone Plate Viscometer
  • Electrophoresis
  • Extensographs, Farinographs
  • Flow Injection Analyser
  • Grain colour sorter
  • High Performance Liquid Chromatographs
  • Kjeltec protein
  • Micromalters
  • NIR - ground and whole grain
  • Oat de-huller
  • Pulse splitting mill
  • Rapid Visco Analyser
  • Spectrophotometers

Edaphic requirements and regional testing

The climate of the cropping regions of South Australia is classified as semi-arid by world standards, with cool wet winters and hot dry summers. The rainfall is also highly variable between sites and seasons and occurs across a range of soil types varying in texture and pH.

The soils commonly have poor structure and are low in fertility by world standards, particularly with regard to nitrogen, phosphorus and certain trace elements. There are also problems with wide-spread toxic accumulations of boron and sodium.

Soil nematodes and root pathogens can also severely restrict crop yields by destroying root systems. Lead and stem diseases can greatly reduce yield when environmental conditions are suitable for their development.

Grain crops are usually rotated from year to year to control the soil pathogens. Pasture leys and pulse crops are included in the crop rotations to improve soil fertility. Minimum tillage and stubble retention cropping systems are increasingly being implemented to maintain soil organic matter and structure and to improve water use efficiency of the crops.

The major objectives of the breeding programs, in addition to enhancing the end-use grain quality, are to increase the adaptation and grain yield of new cultivars as well as incorporating genetic resistance to the major pests and diseases. Constant genetic improvement in the individual crops is also important to maintain current resistances to disease organisms which are able to break down the resistance to attack.

Due to these edaphic requirements, testing by the FCIC of potential new plant varieties is carried out at over 70 sites and over several years, to take account to this highly variable growth environment.

Biotechnology advanced field crops

The supporting biotechnology program assists the breeding programs in the areas of plant transformation, isolation and characterisation of genes of agronomic importance, molecular markers and tissue culture. This program continually produces new tools for the selection, analysis and manipulation of genes controlling agronomic yield and quality characteristics.

Expert capabilities:

  • Tissue culture
  • Genetic transformation including Biolistics
  • Doubled haploid production
  • Molecular marker development
  • DNA sequencing
  • Protein sequencing
  • Scanning confocal microscopy
  • Electrospray mass spectrometry
  • Electron microscopy
  • Molecular plant pathology
  • Chromosome engineering

Crop specialisation: Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rye, Triticale, Peas Beans, Vetch, Lentils

Breeding and commercialisation of new varieties

The breeding and regional testing carried out by the FCIC to produce new improved quality crops involved a 5-stage process.

  1. Specialised and experienced breeders access a wide array of germplasm and appropriate parental crosses are made for specific breeding objectives such as agronomic traits, disease tolerance, grain yield and quality. Early generations (F0 to F4/F5) are planted out as single plants and then in small replicated plots in the field. Extensive disease screening and predictive quality testing is carried out by plant pathologists and chemists.
  2. The breeders then reselect producing advanced generations (F4/F5 to F6/F7) which are grown in small replicated plots for continued testing, including quality. Possible new varieties are then identified.
  3. The Centre's independent Crop Evaluation and Agronomy Unit then tests the advanced lines (F8/F9) in replicated larger plots by regionally-based field teams equipped to sow, manage and harvest the trials using specialised equipment. Most trials are carried out on farmers' properties. Extensive laboratory quality testing is carried out at this stage. Agronomic trials incorporating herbicide and fertiliser treatments are run in parallel at certain sites.
  4. Probable new varieties are identified (F9/F10 to F11/F12) and further testing at all regional sites as in Stage 3. Detailed laboratory ad commercial end-product testing is performed.
  5. Decision to release new varieties is made on the advice of breeders, growers, marketers, chemists and end users. Commercial partners are then invited to tender to seed multiplication and/or commercialisation contracts.


Plant Research Centre Facilities

The FCIC uses sophisticated equipment to grow plants from tissue culture to maturity in laboratories, controlled environments and greenhouses.

These facilities include:

24 environmentally controlled greenhouses, including quarantine modules 27 adaptive plant growth rooms, featuring computer control of temperature, light intensity and humidity

  • Controlled atmosphere rooms
  • Pesticides laboratory
  • Tissue culture units
  • Refrigerated seeds stores
  • Wet laboratories
  • Seed preparation rooms
  • Chemical store
  • Soils drying store
  • Media storage and potting room

Unlimited potential for contract or collaborative research and joint commercial ventures in field crop improvement.

Field Crop Improvement Centre
Waite Research Precinct
Gate 1, Waite Road
Urrbrae SA 5064


GPO Box 397
Adelaide SA 5001
Phone: +61 8 8303 9464
Facsimile: +61 8 8303 9669

University of Adelaide
Private Bag No 1
Glen Osmond SA 5064
Phone: +61 8 8313 8149
Facsimile: +61 8 8303 7109

Principal industry funding bodies

Grains Research and Development Corporation
South Australian Grains Industry Trust