Canary Islands to Toowoomba – the scientist driving innovation in canola

Grain Central September 10, 2019

David Sabah

PACIFIC Seeds canola senior breeder David Tabah has had many lives, from childhood in the Canary Islands to the halls of Oxford University.

Now based at Toowoomba in south east Queensland, Dr Tabah is leading the canola breeding program at Pacific Seeds, helping increase yields and maintain high levels of resistance to the disease, blackleg.

“I have always wanted to play a part in solving the food supply crisis, in the face of tougher environmental conditions and a growing world population. The varieties farmers grow can have a huge impact on yields and being able to contribute to this is what drew me into plant genetics,” he said.

Dr Tabah is in a race against time to control blackleg – a serious disease which can cause significant yield losses and presents itself as stubble or stem rot on canola crops.

“We are working as fast as we can to stay on top of blackleg. Our approach is to understand the genetics behind resistance and the background genetics of our germplasm. As an industry, we are all working towards more durable resistant varieties,” he said.

“If we don’t continue to breed, the disease will overcome all resistance and farmers will have to rely on chemical control alone. By continuing to release new varieties, farmers will have the best chance of running a profitable business.”

Canola is Australia’s third biggest crop in the wheat belt.

“Despite global climatic change, Australia continues to increase yields and contribute to helping feed the world, which is exciting,” Dr Tabah said.

Global player

Educated at the prestigious Oxford University, Dr Tabah then went on to complete his PhD through the University of Bristol before taking on a role at a small vegetable breeding company in the UK as a breeder and molecular biologist.

“It was a very small company, so, with my colleagues, I ended up doing a bit of everything from planning new products to changing the oil in the company car,” he said.

“I was well trained in genetics, but my first job taught me how a commercial breeding company can operate on a tight budget, so it allowed me very practical knowledge. Our lab was producing cutting edge research on a shoe-string, it was basically a modified kitchen, yet we made every effort count towards practical outcomes.”

Dr Tabah’s childhood in the Canary Islands was made idyllic by their unique plants and animals, which sparked a lifelong interest in biology.

“My interest in biology started from a young age, running through the countryside and looking at all the amazing plants and animals,” he said.

Dr Tabah later moved into a new role as a tomato plant breeder for Enza Zaden in Spain.

“I enjoyed working with tomatoes, a very interesting horticultural crop, but I had ambitions to work

in broadacre crops, and because of my background in Brassica, canola felt like a good fit.”

He soon landed a job in Western Australia as a senior canola breeder, before moving to the east coast with Pacific Seeds in 2017.

Hybrid specialist

One of Dr Tabah’s key achievements has been applying the newest technologies and advanced statistical methods in plant breeding to ensure Pacific Seeds is supplying the best hybrids in the market.

“Most canola farmers in Australia are wheat and barley growers. Aside from the high profitability of canola, a big driver to grow canola is to control weeds for future cereal crops, using canola as a break crop,” he said.

“What we have done is focus on the reasons farmers grow canola, which are yield to drive profit from canola itself, and herbicide technologies to improve yields of their subsequent crops.

“We recently released the first Clearfield and TT stacked hybrid in the world (Hyola 580CT). This year, we released the first TruFlex hybrid (Hyola 410XX) and the first TruFlex and TT stacked hybrid (Hyola 530XT). We are also ready to release a TruFlex and Clearfield stacked hybrid (Hyola 540XC). These new technologies will be valuable for weed control for canola farmers across Australia.

“Our main goal is to continue to supply new improved hybrids, with higher yields, that are disease resistant and provide options to farmers so they can choose the right products for their farm.

“We need to keep doing what we are doing to ensure the viability of the industry.”

Pacific Seeds will have two new hybrids with the Truflex trait available for the 2019 planting:

  • Hyola 410XX, which is a straight TruFlex hybrid
  • Hyola 530 XT, which is a world-first stacked hybrid that offers both the TruFlex trait as well as TT tolerance.

Source: Pacific Seeds




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