Dr Walker has her finger on the pulse of research

Dr Cass Walker inspecting a lentil crop

The investment in a new glasshouse and incubation hub at Horsham SmartFarm is welcome news for researchers like Dr Cass Walker. 

The hub will boost the capacity for students, researchers and industry to understand grain science in the heart of Victoria’s grain growing district. Working in plant production sciences, Dr Cass Walker currently supervises two of the eight PhD students onsite and says the new hub will open up educational opportunities in the region.

“This hub will house our students in an open-plan space so they can bounce ideas off each other. The incubation hub will provide a place where primary and secondary students can gain hands-on experience and understand the importance of grains to the food and processing industry," says Cass.

“Here in the Wimmera, we have the most diverse grain-growing region in Australia,” she explained.

The reason western Victoria is the grain capital of Australia, comes down to climate.

“Ninety-five percent of lentils grown in Australia are from the southern region. And the Wimmera is a really productive region – there’s consistent rainfall, so often growers can produce a reliable crop. Crops are grown here that aren’t grown in NSW or Queensland.

“Important cash crops in the region include wheat, barley, canola, pulses including lentils, faba beans, field pea, and chickpeas,” Cass said.

Other components of Cass’s role include working in a world-class team which investigates the composition of grain and how it processes, to ensure the varieties being bred meet Victoria’s market needs.

A big advocate for pulses and their superfood benefits, Cass is not surprised by their seemingly sudden rise in popularity.

“It’s definitely an exciting time to be working in the grains industry, with the significant growth in the consumption of plant-based proteins,” she said.

“I think research in this space will grow as we gain an understanding of what we can breed to select for nutritional value, and how grain can be best processed into a high-value product.

“Our breeding program can select for a range of market-traits, whether grain is visually appealing in terms of grain size and colour, crushes well and can cook quickly. We can ensure new varieties meet our markets.”

Construction of the hub will start in mid-2023 and be completed in 2024.

Once complete, the glasshouse facility will help maximise the region’s opportunities to tap into new markets, support local jobs and boost future investment.

For more information, visit Horsham SmartFarm.