Crop improvement

The South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) Crop Improvement Science Program uses plant breeding, molecular genetics and and phenotyping technologies to determine the genetic basis for key traits related to crop productivity in agricultural systems.

We lead The National Oat Breeding Program and the National Vetch Breeding Program. Pasture Breeding and the Australian Pastures Genebank are also an integral part of our research and development.

Dr Tim Sutton leads this program, which has 4 subprograms:

  • Molecular Genetics
  • Plant Breeding
  • Pulse Pre-Breeding
  • Pastures.

Molecular Genetics

This subprogram focuses on:

  • Genetic analysis of abiotic stress tolerance in pulses including chickpea, field pea, lentil and faba beans.
  • Genetic analysis of biotic stresses including aschochyta, phytophthora and root lesion nematode resistance and tolerance in pulses.
  • Map-based cloning of genes controlling resistance to late maturity alpha amylase (LMA) in wheat.
  • Mutagenesis approaches in pulses to discover novel traits for herbicide tolerance, plant morphological traits and improved adaptation to environmental stresses.
  • Marker development and implementation for cereal cyst nematode tolerance and resistance, stem and crown rust resistance and increased  β-glucan content in oats.
  • New pre-breeding tools and technologies for annual legume species such as subterranean clover and annual medics related to boron tolerance, cold tolerance and key agro-morphological traits.

Subprogram contact

Dr Tim Sutton
Phone: (08) 8429 0787

Plant Breeding


We are responsible for Australia’s oat breeding program in partnership with:

  • Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA)
  • Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC)
  • Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC)
  • Uncle Tobys
  • Australian Exporters Company (AEXCO).

The objectives of the program are to:

  • develop improved milling oat varieties providing growers with the opportunity to produce high quality, disease resistant oat for the milling industry
  • improve the nutritional components of oat such as β-glucan and gluten free
  • develop oat hay varieties with improved early vigor, disease resistance, and hay quality in a range of maturities
  • develop oat varieties that provide disease breaks in farming systems between years for the other major cereals
  • improve drought tolerance in oat germplasm using physiological parameters linked to improved water use efficiency
  • collaborate with SARDI’s molecular genetics team to develop molecular markers and implement in the National Oat Breeding Program.

Oat breeding newsletters:


The objectives of the National Vetch Breeding Program are:

  • developing vetch varieties for Australia with end-use as grain production for livestock, hay, grazing and green manure
  • improving drought tolerance by introducing germplasm from very low rainfall countries or areas such as Ethiopia, Jordan and Cyprus
  • reducing seed dormancy / hardness in woolly pod vetch species by selections and mutagenesis
  • introducing molecular markers in Vicia species for:
    • grain toxin
    • rust
    • aschochyta
    • botrytis resistance.

Subprogram contacts

Dr Pamela Zwer (oat)
Phone: (08) 8429 0914

Stuart Nagel (vetch)
Phone: (08) 8429 0725

Pulse Pre-Breeding

This subprogram focuses on pre-breeding for a number of abiotic stress tolerance traits, including:

  • frost tolerance:
    • field pea
    • lupin
  • heat stress tolerance:
    • faba bean
    • field pea
    • chickpea
  • salt tolerance:
    • lentil
    • chickpea
    • faba bean.

This research is conducted with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation and in collaboration with Pulse Breeding Australia (PBA).

SARDI has a national coordination role in pulse pre-breeding and plays a leading role in organizing the National Pulse Breeding Conferences.

Subprogram contact

Dr Phil Davies
Phone: (08) 8429 0367

Program leader

Dr Tim Sutton
Principal Scientist, Crop Improvement
SARDI Sustainable Systems

GPO Box 397 Adelaide SA 5001
Phone: (08) 8429 0787

Page Last Reviewed: 06 Feb 2015
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