Home' Partners : Partners: Private-sector engagement Contents obtains from improved genetics.
“ With PCA’s investment in R&D it is all about
innovation and trying to differentiate our
product in the market,” Dr Wright says. “And
that comes down largely to plant breeding and
developing peanut varieties with traits that the
market really wants.
“ That’s why there has been such a focus on
quality traits in our breeding program; and it
was ACIAR projects going back nearly 20 years
that played a significant role in our investment
PCA is an old company—it was established
in 1924—yet has routinely played innovative
and visionary roles in the peanut industry.
Today, PCA is involved in all aspects of
the peanut-processing value chain, from
developing new crop varieties to drying and
shelling, grading, blanching, sorting, roasting
While PCA has never partnered directly with
ACIAR—at least not yet—key staff members
such as Dr Wright have.
Prior to joining PCA in 2007, Dr Wright was
one of the scientists at the then Queensland
Department of Primary Industries, funded by
ACIAR to improve the productivity of legume
crops (such as peanuts), which play a vital role
in many tropical smallholder farming systems.
“I was involved in ACIAR projects from 1986 to
2005 and I did a lot of work on the development
of drought-tolerant and early-maturing peanut
varieties,” Dr Wright says. “ We were able to access
really interesting and unique genetic resources
that have underpinned a lot of the variety
development in Australia.”
The first peanut plants were wild, woolly and
unsuited for cropping, he recalls. That means the
starting kernel size, taste and oil chemistry were
not appropriate for Australian crop varieties. It
required many years, a lot of expertise and some
luck to exploit some of their unique traits in
commercial production systems.
“ With the earliest ACIAR projects, it was all
about germplasm enhancement,” Dr Wright
says. “ The material we worked on was raw but it
was unique globally.”
All the ACIAR project partners have since
developed their own varieties, including through
Indian breeding programs. Each country’s
scientists worked on producing varieties relevant
to their farmers’ cropping needs, with project
outcomes producing independently verifiable
benefits in each country.
“For the Australian team, the engagement
with ACIAR allowed us to develop a really viable
team of peanut breeders, physiologists and
pathologists to work on a range of different
problems in Australia,” Dr Wright says.
“Internationally, it opened our eyes to
PARTNERS ISSUE ONE 2015
the student’s experience and prospects.
There may also be opportunities for PCA
to develop early-maturing, foliar-disease-
tolerant, high-biomass, forage-type varieties
into tropical northern Australia and countries
such as Indonesia, where using the vegetative
components of the peanut plant for feeding
animals is an increasingly important role of
peanuts in crop–livestock systems.
“Unless you explore opportunities for new
kinds of relationships no-one knows what you
might end up with,” Dr Wright says. n
ACIAR project: SMAR/2007/068: Productivity
and profitability enhancement of tropical pulses
in Indonesia and Australia
More information: Dr Graeme Wright, Peanut
Company of Australia, email@example.com;
Dr Rao C. N. Rachaputi, project leader, University
of Queensland, firstname.lastname@example.org.
au; Anna Rahmianna, Indonesian collaborator,
Indonesian Legumes and Tuber Crops Institute,
the scale of the problem facing breeders.
Then there was the access to highly diverse
germplasm and different strategies of breeding.
Overall, it was a really productive project.”
Today, Australia is one of the few exclusive
processors of Hi Oleic peanuts and PCA’s
trading partners include some of the world’s
leading food manufacturers.
Additionally, the high yields from
cultivars developed with PCA investment
allow Australian farmers to remain price
competitive relative to imported varieties. PCA
is also looking at commercialising its varieties
“ The whole area of international
commercialisation is mainly about protection of
intellectual property,” Dr Wright says. “So we are
cautious about who we partner with to avoid
losing control of our unique genetics.”
Dr Wright would also like to see the
company engage with ACIAR directly in the
future. In November 2014 in Canberra, he
attended an ACIAR workshop on stimulating
greater private-sector engagement in research-
The conference highlighted the reasons why
private companies are motivated to engage
with the public sector, including access to
science innovation, research credibility and
According to Dr Wright, a private company
such as PCA is generally interested in investing
in R&D if it gets a competitive edge in the
marketplace. However, government initiatives
are about public good, public access and public
accountability. So a key element in developing
successful partnerships between the public and
private sectors is identifying the common goals
with mutual benefits.
Dr Wright thinks opportunities for public–
private co-benefits are particularly valid in the
area of long-term, pre-commercial pre-breeding
(that enhance germplasm but do not produce
the finished varieties that farmers grow). He
also sees opportunities in training graduates
on market realities and R&D strategies that are
market-driven and outcome-orientated.
“PCA is part of Australian Research Council
training centres at both the University of NSW and
the University Sydney,” Dr Wright says. “ That is a
really good model of engaging public and private
sectors to assist agricultural science students to
work with industry on real-world issues.”
He thinks the model could work well in
developing countries wherever the divide
between public and private-sector R&D is
especially huge. Such a model could see a
company such as GarudaFood in Indonesia host
government-funded students in the form of an
industry placement that broadens and deepens Peanut Company of Australia, Kingaroy, Queensland.
Dr Graeme Wright, Peanut Company of Australia.
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