New Australian technology could help provide more wheat to the world as the climate warms, according to a new report.
The research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, estimates new wheats can be sown at up to twice the depth of current varieties and access moisture deep in the soil.
A team from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO has identified new wheat genes and tested them against Australia’s weather data collected over 120 years, concluding that it could boost yields by around 20 per cent.
Dr Greg Rebetzke, chief research scientist at CSIRO, said the paper identified how more wheat can be produced in a changing climate.
He said the new varieties will be more resilient towards heat and drought “which will adapt better for future changing climates.”
Dr Rebetzke – who has been involved in the research for 25 years – said the CSIRO team developed the new genetics which grow longer shoots or coleoptiles, which he likened to a drinking straw.
“The hollow tube grows through the hard dry soil and when it reaches the surface, the wheat plant can then grow through that straw safely to emerge safely above the ground,” he said.
Current wheat varieties are about six to nine centimetres but CSIRO was able to develop a variety with a shoot around twice as long at up to 15cm.
The genes were given to “breeding companies” around three years ago who have used them to breed new varieties.
“That depth really does allow growers greater flexibility and assurance independent of the season,” Dr Rebetzke said.
He said being able to plant the wheat at a deeper level should have a significant impact on the amount that can be produced, which could be worth in excess of two billion dollars annually to Australia’s wheat industry.
“Just by ensuring that the crop when sown germinates on time and is not delayed because of late rainfall.”
The team – made up of agronomists, geneticists and crop modellers – also used 120 years of historic climate data, to predict the value of the new genetics with changing weather.
“We used crop models to understand what the value would be in climates we’re yet to experience,” Dr Rebetzke said.
The CSIRO scientist said with climate change predicted to produce more summer rainfall and less autumn rainfall, the results will impact on the window that wheat can be planted and reliably grown.
“There’s strong interest in the work globally, because across the world increasingly warmer and drier soil temperatures are risking crop failure,” he said.
While some of the new wheat varieties are currently commercially available in South Australia, the team expects them to become more widely available in a few years.
(Australian Associated Press)