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Drought Conditions Are Focus of Ground-breaking Wheat Research

Drought Conditions Are Focus of Ground-breaking Wheat Research

12 September 2013

AUSTRALIA - Ground-breaking research being conducted in South Australia into the qualities of wheat varieties grown in hotter, drier locations could hold the key to significant future yield increases.

Researchers at the SA Research and Development Institute (SARDI) are studying “plant memory” – or the influence on growing conditions of the “mother” crop on the “offspring” crop (epigenetics) – to see if wheat varieties can develop resilience to stress, including drought and salinity.

The research is being funded by the South Australian Grain Industry Trust (SAGIT), and builds on preliminary research which connects seed sourced from grain grown in harsh conditions to yield increases of up to 20%.

Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Gail Gago says the research will help South Australia’s grains industry to maintain an excellent record of producing high-yielding, premium quality cereal crops.

“We rely on research, development, and improved farm management practices to underpin one of our largest commodity exports and ensure it’s able to adapt to climate change in the long term,” she says.

SARDI Climate Applications crop physiologist, Associate Professor Victor Sardis, says since the 1980s, South Australian broadacre crop production has risen from 20 kg of wheat per hectare for each millimetre of water available – to 25 kg of wheat per hectare.

“Together with better varieties and improved practices, we are also working to improve farm production by combining knowledge of crop ecology, physiology, genetics, and crop protection,” he said.

Minister for Water and the River Murray Ian Hunter says the willingness of growers to adopt new technology is helping prepare for future drought and other climatic challenges.

“Screening crops for adaptation to water, heat, and salinity stress will support progress in this area,” he says.

Early results from SARDI’s pilot epigenetics project indicates that yield improvements can be achieved by simply sourcing well-adapted seed from target areas.

SARDI Crop Improvement Leader Dr Klaus Oldach says this research project aims to help growers to identify seed which will perform better under stresses such as drought or soil constraints such as subsoil salinity or boron toxicity.

“The cumulative effect of routinely sourcing better adapted seed could be to significantly add yield and profit to cereal production with little or no additional cost. By testing the value of the pre-adaptation qualities to stress, we also add to our understanding of how germ plasm adapts over time,” he says.

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