Agriculture Victoria Services Pty Ltd

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Agriculture Victoria Services has established an investment fund to facilitate the further development of technologies that have been created by   the Department of Environment and Primary Industries and have commercial potential. The investments are designed to help bridge the gap that often exists between the creation of a technology and the point at which the private sector is attracted to invest in the development of products utilising the technology.

 

The current portfolio of investments includes:

 

 Phytogene Pty Ltd

 

Phytogene Pty Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary company of Agriculture Victoria Services Pty Ltd. Its purpose is to commercialise a proprietary and patented delayed plant leaf senescence technology with the trade mark, LXR®. The technology has a wide range of potential applications for major plant crops by increasing dry matter production, seed yield and drought tolerance.

 

The Company also holds exclusive commercialisation rights to another yield enhancing technology which is complementary to LXR®. Known as BET (biomass enhancement technology), this trait technology was developed by AVS and the former Molecular Plant Breeding CRC.

 

Following early seed funding from AVS, Phytogene has been financially self-sufficient since 2008 with payments received from licensees providing sufficient funding to support the Company’s operations. Phytogene continues to maintain a low cost structure while it builds value in the technology and seeks further commercial opportunities. As a result, Phytogene has been able to meet the operating loss of $92,390 incurred in 2014-15 from its own internal cash resources.

 

Fees and milestone payments due from licensees are projected to ensure Phytogene remains cash  flow  positive in  the  period prior  to  the launch  of  the first  plant  variety incorporating the LXR® technology.

 

Glasshouse and field trial results to date have provided evidence of proof of concept for LXR® in the dicot species canola, white clover and alfalfa. Proof of concept in a monocot species has been a recent priority for Phytogene, particularly in wheat given the crop’s strategic importance to Victoria. To this end, on behalf of Phytogene, Biosciences Research (with approval of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator) completed an extensive field trial of LXR® and BET wheat in 2014-15.

 

Phytogene’s wheat field trial results in 2014-15 reflected significant yield benefits for LXR®, particularly under water-stressed conditions where statistically significant gains of between 40% and 60% were shown. Yield gains in BET wheat were also achieved.

 

During 2014-15 the Company also received positive reports from a Phytogene licensee for LXR alfalfa following its completion of successful field trials. This has led to a Company decision to advance to product development by commencing a crossing programme to incorporate the LXR® trait into its commercial lucerne germplasm.

 

During 2015-16, Phytogene will target communications of its strong technical and field- trial data now gathered that clearly demonstrates the efficacy of the LXR and BET yield enhancement technologies, in both dicot and monocot species, with a view to entering licensing arrangements with suitable private sector companies.

 

 Primary Oilseeds

 

Primary Oilseeds is an oilseed cultivar  development and commercialisation  program that delivers elite canola germplasm and varieties through three genetic trait pipelines: conventional canola, triazine-tolerant canola and imidazolinone-tolerant (Clearfield®) canola (as parental lines).

 

Investment provided by AVS over a four-year period was completed in 2007 when, in alignment with Department ‘Policy for Investment in Plant Breeding’, the Department determined to divest from further canola cultivar breeding. AVS implemented a transition process which resulted in the successful transfer of canola cultivar development activities and intellectual property rights from the State to the private sector.

 

In exchange for the transfer of this germplasm, AVS and the Department receive royalty payments arising from the commercialisation of existing and new canola cultivars by private sector partners.

 

Returns from AVS investment in the maturing Primary Oilseeds program remain in decline due to the expected reduction in new commercial varieties attributable to AVS genetics (originally assigned for breeding use on the Department’s exit from canola cultivar development).

            

 

 HOLL Canola

 

The AVS HOLL Canola investment project was established to develop High Oleic, Low Linolenic (HOLL) canola hybrids with tolerance to important herbicides for Brassica napus. Oil produced from HOLL canola offers improved shelf life and stability at high temperatures due to a higher oxidative stability, as well as low levels of saturated ‘trans’ fats.

 

AVS’s original co-investment with Cargill Inc. enabled the co-development of improved conventional and new herbicide tolerant HOLL canola hybrids (with Biosciences Research), primarily for Australian and North American production areas.

 

The collaboration has resulted in the release by Cargill of new commercial canola varieties in Australia with proprietary HOLL canola traits that offer value to the food and food processing sectors based on the product’s health benefits to consumers.

 

Current variety releases include Victory V3002 (a conventional hybrid HOLL canola hybrid) and Victory V5002 (a Round-Up Ready® herbicide tolerant hybrid). Several new Victory HOLL canola hybrids are currently under evaluation for prospective release in the next three to five years, with the outlook for continued grower adoption of AVS-Cargill HOLL canola varieties remaining promising.

 

  Juncea Canola

 

The AVS Juncea Canola investment project was established to develop canola-quality Brassica juncea oilseed varieties with improved adaptation for marginal canola growing regions in Australia.

 

Most of Australia’s canola oil crop originates from the species Brassica napus. However, ‘Juncea Canola’ is traditionally better suited to low-rainfall, high-temperature environments. To date, the project has developed canola-quality Brassica juncea genetics with improved adaptation for the drier canola growing regions in Australia, along with traits conferring improved herbicide tolerance, disease-resistance (i.e. blackleg and white rust) and quality characteristics.

 

The open-pollinated, imidazolinone herbicide tolerant (Clearfield®) variety, XCEED™ Oasis CL, currently remains the only Juncea canola variety being grown commercially in Australia, on a small-scale. The Landmark Operations Juncea Canola breeding program includes several promising herbicide tolerant Juncea canola cultivars (in advanced stages of field evaluation), in readiness for commercial release subject to an increase in industry acceptance and demand for the product.


 

 

 

 New Canola Investment

 

In February 2015, the AVS Board approved a new investment opportunity that aims to assist canola breeders to develop higher-yielding canola hybrids with improved blackleg disease-resistance via novel genomic selection methods. The new breeding tool, developed through a major Biosciences Research collaboration, is targeted for use by canola breeders to accelerate and optimise the development of elite canola hybrids with both quantitative and qualitative resistance to blackleg disease.

 

Blackleg is a fungal disease that poses a significant threat to the Australian canola industry and is responsible for the greatest proportion of biotic pathogen induced production losses for Australian canola growers. Successful validation of this invention through AVS investment will lead to enhanced prediction of the blackleg resistance of screening plants, shortening of the canola hybrid breeding process and accelerated delivery of elite new hybrid canola varieties to Australian canola growers.

 

 

  Herbicide-Tolerant Lentils

 

The AVS Herbicide Tolerant Lentils investment project was established to develop and commercialise elite, first-generation lentil cultivars with tolerance to a class of herbicides used by Victorian and Australian lentil growers. Group B (acetoacetate-synthase-inhibiting) herbicides are used to control broadleaf weeds in pulses.

 

The project first conducted a small-scale, commercially focused, mutagenesis- based breeding program to produce a pipeline of non-transgenic, herbicide tolerant lentil varieties. The breeding process of ‘mutagenesis’ alters a plant by making changes to its DNA sequence but does not introduce foreign DNA into the plant’s genome as occurs with transgenesis (genetic modification). The project successfully demonstrated proof of concept in several lentil cultivars with tolerance to the Group B herbicide, imidazolinone.

 

Leading candidate herbicide tolerant lentil cultivars were developed and, through AVS’s private sector partner PB Seeds Pty Ltd, underwent wide-scale commercial grower evaluation.

 

The first AVS herbicide tolerant lentil variety, PBA Herald XT, was commercially launched by PB Seeds Pty Ltd and Pulse Breeding Australia in 2011 and received wide grower acceptance.

 

The second AVS herbicide tolerant lentil variety released, PBA Hurricane XT, received strong seed orders for sowing in season 2014 and 2015. PBA Hurricane XT is an important variety in areas where weed control is a priority and as a replacement for PBA Herald XT.

 

 

 

 Primary Oilseeds

 

Primary Oilseeds is an oilseed cultivar  development and commercialisation  program that delivers elite canola germplasm and varieties through three genetic trait pipelines: conventional canola, triazine-tolerant canola and imidazolinone-tolerant (Clearfield®) canola (as parental lines).

 

Investment provided by AVS over a four-year period was completed in 2007 when, in alignment with Department ‘Policy for Investment in Plant Breeding’, the Department determined to divest from further canola cultivar breeding. AVS implemented a transition process which resulted in the successful transfer of canola cultivar development activities and intellectual property rights from the State to the private sector.

 

In exchange for the transfer of this germplasm, AVS and the Department receive royalty payments arising from the commercialisation of existing and new canola cultivars by private sector partners.

 

Returns from AVS investment in the maturing Primary Oilseeds program remain in decline due to the expected reduction in new commercial varieties attributable to AVS genetics (originally assigned for breeding use on the Department’s exit from canola cultivar development).

 

 

  Herbicide Tolerant Lentils

 

The AVS Herbicide Tolerant Lentils investment project was established to develop and commercialise elite, first-generation lentil cultivars with tolerance to a class of herbicides used by Victorian and Australian lentil growers. Group B (acetoacetate-synthase-inhibiting) herbicides are used to control broadleaf weeds in pulses.

 

The project first conducted a small-scale, commercially focused, mutagenesis- based breeding program to produce a pipeline of non-transgenic, herbicide tolerant lentil varieties. The breeding process of ‘mutagenesis’ alters a plant by making changes to its DNA sequence but does not introduce foreign DNA into the plant’s genome as occurs with transgenesis (genetic modification). The project successfully demonstrated proof of concept in several lentil cultivars with tolerance to the Group B herbicide, imidazolinone.

 

Leading candidate herbicide tolerant lentil cultivars were developed and, through AVS’s private sector partner PB Seeds Pty Ltd, underwent wide-scale commercial grower evaluation.

 

The first AVS herbicide tolerant lentil variety, PBA Herald XT, was commercially launched by PB Seeds Pty Ltd and Pulse Breeding Australia in 2011 and received wide grower acceptance.

 

The second AVS herbicide tolerant lentil variety released, PBA Hurricane XT, received strong seed orders for sowing in season 2014 and 2015. PBA Hurricane XT is an important variety in areas where weed control is a priority and as a replacement for PBA Herald XT.

 

 

 

  Herbicide Tolerant Barley

 

Weed control is a key issue in Australian grain production, including in barley crops. Effective chemical weed control is desirable to maximise production of the crop and limit the need for mechanical cultivation and its resultant damage to soil structure and erosion. In barley cropping systems, a greater range of herbicides to control the full spectrum of relevant weeds is considered highly advantageous to cereal growers. With this aim, AVS invested in an experimental research and development project carried out by Biosciences Research. The project screened genotypes from barley mutant populations for improved tolerance to herbicides for broadleaf and grass weed control.

 

Following technical proof of concept, AVS secured global intellectual property protection of the herbicide tolerant barley trait technology in key barley producing countries. The project has since resulted in the licensing of local seed and global herbicide partners for the commercial release of the world’s first herbicide tolerant barley variety, Scope CL Barley.

 

The commercialisation of the AVS herbicide tolerant barley trait in Australia has been highly successful to date in terms of its rapid and early adoption by the Australian barley industry, following achievement of several key regulatory and commercial milestones as summarised below:

 

  • Registration of Intervix® herbicide application on AVS herbicide tolerant barley approved by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).
  • Licence signed between AVS and BASF Plant Sciences enabling use of the Clearfield® trademark for Scope CL Barley. Note barley growers are required to strictly follow BASF’s stewardship protocols in their application of Intervix® on Clearfield® Scope barley.
  • Licence signed between AVS and Landmark Operations Ltd (Seednet) granting exclusive licence rights to commercially produce and market Scope CL Barley seed in Australia, via end-point-royalty production and grower declaration.
  • Scope CL Barley accredited as a ‘malting’ variety by Barley Australia.

 

The  continued,  significant  growth  in  grower  uptake  of  Scope CL Barley is evident through strong seed sales and production for the variety in 2014-15 which is being driven by the increasingly demonstrable value of the herbicide tolerant trait to barley growers and relatively good seasonal conditions.

 

In 2014-15, AVS made a further investment in the project aimed at maximising and sustaining the beneficial impact of the barley trait in Australia, by enabling:

 

  • Herbicide tolerant barley trait deregulation in Canada to de-risk future herbicide tolerant adoption in Australia
  • Herbicide tolerant barley patent rights to be secured in target barley producing countries.