Jo Williams – Lucerne Research & Development

In 2010, after five years with SARDI on the Eyre Peninsula running the NVT trials, Jo Williams returned home to her family farm with her husband at Field in the upper southeast of South Australia. At the same time, she began work for S&W Seed Company Australia in lucerne research and development. Over the last 11 years, this role has progressed into lucerne breeder for the Australian program. Lucerne has always been a passion for Jo and her family. Their 5,000 breeding merino sheep operation relies heavily on lucerne pastures, providing a much needed, high quality feed option for their stock. They also produce up to 300 hectares of dryland lucerne seed each season.

The global lucerne-breeding program at S&W is heavily focused on producing high forage and seed yielding varieties, with high resistance across the pest and disease profiles. The breeding program is also focused on a range of traits, including salt tolerance, low lignin and high-quality varieties. Having a global program, allows the breeders at S&W to take advantage of the two growing seasons in both the northern and southern hemispheres each year. This means that they can concurrently run the screening trials globally. Jo elaborates on the benefits of simultaneous breeding programs, “For the farmer this means quicker turn-around of material going from the evaluation stage to the commercial stage – Best genetics, faster.”

Plant selections are made across all major lucerne growing regions globally. These selections are then crossed to produce F1 seed, the first generation of seed of a new variety. This breeding line is then entered into all screening programs, including, dormancy, forage, seed, salt, pest and disease trials. Once a breeding line has shown to meet the high standards that all S&W lucerne varieties must achieve to progress in the program, the breeding line is then advanced to the seed build up stage and then onto commercialisation. This process can take up to seven years to ensure that all varieties produced from the S&W breeding program continue to be leaders in the marketplace.

If you want a lucerne that has high forage, great pest and disease profile and produces really good quality, then S&W lucerne is the lucerne for you.

There are some very exciting new products that will shortly be available to domestic growers from the global breeding program. These include varieties with a range of dormancy from 5-10, catering for all domestic lucerne growing regions and end use systems, whether it be cut and carry or grazing. These varieties have been extensively screened through the forage and seed yield as well as the pest and disease trials, producing elite, high quality lucerne varieties.

Jo continues to enjoy the challenge of breeding lucerne varieties that fit a global marketplace with exceptional yields and quality. She gains great joy and satisfaction from seeing the S&W lucerne varieties performing well for growers and adding to the profitability of their farming businesses.

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