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For the past five years Dr Lance has been with leading Australian cereal breeding company InterGrain, which he joined when the barley breeding program of the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) was integrated with InterGrain.
WA born and raised and with an agricultural science degree from the University of Western Australia, his first job as a post-graduate was in 1976 with Union Maltings in North Perth. While working there, the KBB malthouse, a joint venture between Kirin and Barret-Burston, was built.
He quickly realised that WA barley was, generally, not up to international malting standards and growers were not attracting price premiums over feed barley, so in 1977 he commenced at Washington State University, USA, specialising in barley breeding, genetics and malting quality.
With a particular focus on the beta glucan contents in barley, he assessed their levels with enzymatic assays (brewers require low beta glucan levels to maximise brewery efficiency and to produce non-cloudy beer) and completed his PhD in this area in 1983.
Dr Lance then worked as a post-doctoral fellow for two years at the Carlsberg Research Laboratories’ Department of Brewing Chemistry in Denmark, before returning to Australia in 1984 to commence a post doctorate on malting quality at the University of Adelaide under barley breeder David Sparrow.
He quickly moved into barley breeding, which was always his goal. He and David Sparrow released Chebec as a CCN resistant feed and later Dr Lance released Sloop, widely considered a quantum leap forward in terms of malting quality, offering greatly improved extract and a 25% improvement in diastatic power over industry benchmarks at the time.
While in SA he was also involved in breeding the varieties Dhow, Keel, and Maritime.
In December 1995, Dr Lance returned to WA to work at DAFWA with barley breeder Peter Portman, best known for breeding Stirling barley, released in 1982.
During the mid-1990s DAFWA’s barley breeding program was determined to breed a Stirling replacement to offer an improved quality variety for the increasingly demanding export market.
In 1997 Dr Lance, along with Mr Portman, released Gairdner, which filled a national variety gap, providing growers with a mid-long season malting option.
Bred from a Franklin sister line and Onslow, a long season semi-dwarf, Gairdner was so successful it remains popular in parts of WA, Victoria and NSW.
In 2002 Hamelin and Baudin were released, with Hamelin a Stirling replacement due to its agronomic similarity, although it also boasted greatly improved export quality.
According to Dr Lance, it was soon discovered that Hamelin’s quality improvements were related to a gene on chromosome 5HL, which also increased its risk of pre-harvest sprouting, so many growers subsequently opted for Buloke, bred by David Moody, who is now with InterGrain.
Dr Lance considers Baudin one of his major breeding achievements.
Originally released as a Gairdner replacement for medium to higher rainfall areas, Baudin was a quantum leap forward in terms of quality and is still considered the international benchmark.
When Baudin was released, there was a rapid uptake by growers due to its robust agronomic features and its market share peaked at 28% in WA in 2010. It is still widely grown in WA and NSW, buoyed by the premiums paid by export grain traders and maltsters.
In 2006 Dr Chengdao Li and Dr Lance jointly released Vlamingh, which yielded more than Gairdner and was better adapted to medium-low rainfall areas than Baudin.
Vlamingh, which received malt accreditation in early 2007, appealed to growers because of its yield and agronomic benefits its excellent grain size.
After Vlamingh came Molloy, Doolup and Hannan (Stirling type variety bred for domestic malting), Lockyer (a long season, high yielding feed as an Onslow replacement) and Roe (a high yielding feed variety bred as a Mundah replacement) in 2007.
“All were released due to industry demand, as they felt they had a fit,” Dr Lance explained.
The first of Dr Lance’s InterGrain releases was Bass in 2012, following its receipt of malt accreditation. Released as a Baudin replacement, Bass has similar adaptation and malting characteristics and performs well for WA growers in the medium-high rainfall zones.
“Bass is a paradigm shift, as semi-dwarf export malting varieties typically had smaller grain sizes, but Bass has excellent grain plumpness, which helps meet malt specifications,” Dr Lance said.
Flinders, which should be released in 2015 if accreditation is received, offers a yield advantage over Bass and Baudin in medium-high rainfall areas, is resistant to powdery mildew and has good leaf rust resistance, both essential disease requirements for WA southern areas.
During his long and distinguished barley breeding and academic career, Dr Lance has keenly supported research and development, including that funded by GRDC. He has been involved in training about 10 graduate students, including Chengdao Li of DAFWA and Jason Eglinton of the University of Adelaide and has been refereed in 100 research publications in breeding genetics, quality, disease resistance and plant nutrition.
“I’m satisfied I’ve played a part in helping build Australia’s barley and malting industry and I leave it in good stead and capable hands, having witnessed the substantial malt quality improvement in Australian varieties over the past 30 years,” he said.
Australia’s annual barley production has grown to about eight million tonnes, something he attributes to breeding improvements and significant advances in agronomy systems.
Addressing InterGrain staff on the eve of his retirement, Dr Lance acknowledged the contribution of the teams he had worked with over the years, including those in agronomy, pathology and quality, all of whom were critical elements to a strong breeding program.
InterGrain CEO, Tresslyn Walmsley, paid tribute to Dr Lance’s contribution to InterGrain, saying he had not only put his stamp on popular, high performing new varieties but also had passed on his unmatched knowledge and experience to the next generation of InterGrain barley breeders.
“Barley breeding, like all grain breeding, is part science and part practical knowledge gained by professionally interfacing with growers, processors and end users and Reg ticked all those boxes,” Ms Walmsley said.
Photo: Dr Reg Lance, courtesy of Ann Lance