New BASF biological solution contributes to farming efficiency across parts of Australia
As ever-more erratic climate patterns continue to wreak havoc, people everywhere are seeking protection. For instance, we rely on air conditioning during lethal heat waves; and ride out storms in well-equipped shelters of all kinds. But cultivated crops have nowhere to hide. And as these crops feed the world’s estimated 7.5 billion people and 70 billion farm animals, the need for solutions is urgent.
Australian farmers in particular have faced a difficult and prolonged drought over the past several years. To reduce the pressure of climate-induced damage to crops and herds, stakeholders from all sectors – including government, academia and the private sector – have been working together to find innovative solutions.
In 2018, BASF engaged in a cross-sectoral partnership to help tackle this challenge. The goal was to find a solution to enable a grazing legume called Tedera, native to the Canary Islands, to survive in Australia’s tough, drought-stricken fields.
The legume was identified and developed by the Future Farm Industry Co-operative Research Centre (formerly known as the Co-operative Research Centre for Plant Based Management of Dryland Salinity). Licensed by Australian seed business Seednet, the inoculation ensures the plant has sufficient nitrogen. The challenging and inhospitable environment, and the fact that Tedera was a brand-new plant type for Australia, effectively meant that existing inoculants could not be used.
“Tedera fits into the category of scientists developing new species in the face of climate change. Hot and dry conditions are getting more prominent and this species has been developed to cope with those conditions,” said Simon Crane from Seednet.
“Five years ago when Seednet – through Landmark and Dyna-Gro Seeds – started looking at how we can commercialize this variety, we realized that, for this brand-new species coming to our agricultural environment, we don’t have the rhizobium we need naturally. That’s when BASF became involved,” he added.
The power of inoculants
Inoculants contain live bacteria, called rhizobia, that form a symbiotic relationship with the host plant. The plant provides a living space, and the rhizobia converts nitrogen from the air into forms that the plant can use for growth.
Originally, the rhizobia strain was identified by the Australian Inoculant Research Group, a public institution. It was then that – through a partnership between BASF and Seednet – the inoculant needed by Tedera was produced. Once inoculated with this specific strain, the legume is able to produce nitrogen in dry landscapes.
“The commercialization of the Tedera legume is a great example of how collaboration and engagement across various organizations can bring great results for farmers,” said Gavin Jackson, Head of Agricultural Solutions at BASF. “The collaboration to develop this plant and tailor it to meet Australian conditions has been going on for over a decade. BASF is proud to be part of this team and to help develop the inoculant the plant needs to thrive in tough Australian conditions.”
In late 2018, the local variety of Tedera – called Lanza Tedera – was launched in Western Australia. The seeds for Lanza Tedera are expected to be commercially available in 2019. The ability of Tedera to maintain its leaves in dry and hot conditions means that farmers can now better protect the health and well-being of their herds during times of drought.
Besides the inherent benefits of plants like Lanza Tedera – which are essentially the products of inclusive partnerships and scientific innovations – for farmers and growers, the plant can also help turn the vast dry fields of Western and Southern Australia into plentiful paddocks, thriving with biodiversity and more resilient in the face of a changing climate.
 According to UK NGO Compassion in World Farming. See: https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3640540/ciwf_strategic_plan_20132017.pdf.