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Chickpea trial leads to Bayer Youth Ag Summit

A passion for sustainable food production led Sydney Ph.D. student Cara Jeffrey all the way to the top end of Western Australia to complete large-scale chickpea trials.

Now that research has earned her selection as one of four Australian nominees selected out of 100 delegates aged 18 to 25 from around the world to attend the biennial 2021 Bayer Youth Ag Summit in November.

Ms. Jeffrey originally studied marine biology before going on to complete her honors at James Cook University, where she worked with the pearl farming industry to develop a method to extract pearl oysters' tissue in a way that didn't harm them for genetic analysis and selective breeding. Needing a change in direction, she began to consider a career in agriculture and started a Ph.D. which involves research to identify the breeds and sections of DNA from chickpeas that breeders should target to produce a more heat tolerant and resilient crop.

That research involved two large-scale chickpeas trials - one in Kununurra and the other in Narrabri, New South Wales - in which she was looking at certain traits, taking measurements on different breeds and genotypes, and looking at how they grow in different environments. "We have an environment in Kununurra which is hot but there is the ability to give the plant enough water and nutrients to grow as big and healthy as they possibly could, so there was no environmental impact in their growth," Ms. Jeffrey said.

"Whereas in Narrabri we had more typical Australian growth conditions for chickpeas, the crops are only watered by the rain and have no external nutrients. The idea was to compare how the crops grew in those different environments and whether we could find any seriously impressive performers in terms of growth under heat stress."

In both Kununurra and Narrabri the crops were maturing in summer, with the trial investigating if there was a yield difference, what the trends were among the species and if any of them stood out as being very reliable.

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