IF DISASTER should ever strike the world’s farming industry, the work of Horsham’s Bob Redden could help the recovery.
Mr Redden spent 15 years curating seeds and genetic information about oilseeds and legumes for the Australian Grains Genebank at Horsham’s Grains Innovation Park.
The key to improving the disease or climate resistance of future crops might lie in the DNA of plant species that largely disappeared during the industrial revolution.
Mr Redden said each village used to have their own unique species of wheat or rice before massive corporations started offering the same seeds to every farmer.
“In the previous century, breeders kept their own collections of diverse material from around the world,” he said.
“The breeders were concentrating mainly on their new collections and the original seeds took a backseat.
“They were not always kept in the best condition and there was always a risk of losing them.
“Having an official Australian genebank was seen as a big advantage.”
Mr Redden started with the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in 2001 as curator of the Australian Temperate Field Crops Collection.
He retired in December.
Mr Redden said his role involved bringing in varieties and genetic material that was not yet available in Australia.
“Then we had to usually increase the seeds because often times only small amounts came through quarantine,” he said.
The centre used to cultivate the imported plants but only a few seeds from each generation could be inspected for disease and put in the collection.
Mr Redden said one of his most memorable moments in the job was the first Australian deposit of genetic resources into the ‘Doomsday Vault’ in Svalbard, Norway in 2011.
Mr Redden said the complex was built near the arctic circle so low temperatures could preserve the seeds.
The vault's growing collection contains samples from a third of the world's most important food-crop varieties – about 400,000 samples.
Mr Redden was then part of a second trip to the vault in 2014.
He said he would use his time in retirement to research how crops evolved on separate continents.