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Pulse research gets boost

IMAGE: Solomon Maina, Josh Fanning, Abby Griffin and Arun Shunmugam.
Solomon Maina, Josh Fanning, Abby Griffin and Arun Shunmugam.

Agriculture Victoria’s national leadership in pulse research has been given a boost with four new scientists joining the research and innovation team at Horsham’s Grains Innovation Park.

Agriculture Victoria research scientist Dr Josh Fanning has taken on the role of pulse pathologist; Dr Arun Shunmugam has joined the molecular plant breeding team as a lentil breeder; plant molecular virologist Dr Solomon Maina’s work will include upgrading exotic virus screening processes; and the focus for Abby Griffin will be pulse agronomy.

Agriculture Victoria research director Traci Griffin said the new staff bring skills and experience that, collectively, will improve outcomes for pulse growers and Victoria’s burgeoning pulse industry.

“Josh and Abby are filling exciting new positions, created to meet growing demand for pulse pathology and agronomy research, while Arun has filled a recently vacated role,” she said.

“Solomon will be working within the microbiology team, which is tasked with ensuring biosecurity procedures facilitate the safe movement of pulse germplasm (seed or plant tissue) in and out of Australia.

”Dr Fanning, who has been specialising in soil-borne diseases for the last four years, said he was excited to expand his role into pulse pathology.”

Since starting in the role Dr Fanning has focused on pulse disease surveillance to ensure disease ratings are up-to-date, which will enable pulse breeders to develop and release more resistant varieties.

Among those who will benefit from the results of Dr Fanning’s research will be new lentil breeder Dr Shunmugam.

Dr Shunmugam’s passion for lentils has taken him across the globe, relocating to Horsham from Saskatchewan in Canada and, before that, from his homeland in India.

He admits the move to Horsham was a big leap, having previously only lived in large cities, but said he and his young family were looking forward to the change.

“I really wanted to come here for two reasons,” Dr Shunmugam said.

“Firstly, because I really love lentils, one of the important diet staples in India, and secondly because plant breeders at Grains Innovation Park practise physiological plant breeding, as opposed to conventional breeding, which is what I was doing in my previous roles.

“This means we look at the whole plant or crop, rather than just focusing on one trait, and can consider real-time issues such as heat and drought.

”Dr Maina has also moved some distance to take up his new role.He arrived in Horsham from Perth, and before that was in Nairobi, Kenya. Dr Maina’s new role involves supporting the introduction of seed that is free of diseases to the Australian Grains Genebank at Horsham. This seed is then used by plant breeders to develop new and improved varieties for farmers.

“The aim is to upgrade current exotic virus screening processes to make it more efficient to identify seed-borne viruses and prevent their introduction into Australia,” he said.

For new scientist Abby Griffin, the move to Horsham from Queensland to take on a pulse agronomy role was much less daunting.

Ms Griffin grew up in Horsham before relocating to Brisbane, where she was employed by GrainCorp as a quality supervisor for their Brisbane port terminals.

Her new role will include overseeing field trials for the Southern Pulse Validation program, which seeks to build on research findings from the Southern Pulse Agronomy program led by Dr Jason Brand.

“We are looking at many research questions within the areas of herbicide tolerance, disease management and canopy management, and are really passionate about finding improvements that can be incorporated into current farming systems,” she said.

“It’s good to be back home in the Wimmera and contributing to improving a crop that is so important to farmers and the regional economy.”

This article was first published in Leading Agriculture.

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