Thursday, July 21, 2011

Boosting wheat yields amid a shifting climate

Farmers Weekly Interactive (UK): During the 1970s and 1980s, wheat yields on farm were increasing by about 3% a year, a remarkable achievement brought about by a combination of improved genetics and better management practices. However, since that time yield gain has slowed; it is now running at 0.5% a year, while on-farm yields have plateaued and are even declining in parts of the EU.

The situation must be reversed to ensure wheat growers can meet the twin challenge of coping with climate change and feeding a burgeoning global population, says Richard Summers, leader on Cereals Breeding at RAGT Seeds. Mr Summers was speaking at a recent Crops and Climate Change seminar, organised by the Cambridge Partnership for Plant Sciences and held at the NIAB Innovation Farm centre.

"I believe the UK will remain an area of high yield potential, though it will be touched by global warming. We can produce wheats for the UK that can cope with the sort of temperature rise we are likely to experience over the next 5-10 years by using genes for daylength response, temperature tolerance and vernalisation requirement found in current French and Mediterranean varieties. However, these genes will need to be recombined with others that are important for adaptation to UK latitudes and high yield potential."

While that would be sufficient to maintain the current upward varietal yield trend, it would not meet the 1-1.5% annual increase needed if the world was not to go hungry by 2050.

To make matters worse, he suspected temperature was already affecting UK crop output. "Yields seem to have plateaued on farm in the UK for the past five or six years. I would love to think it's to do with soil structure, rotation or the effects of economics….”

Either Way in the Wheat, north west of Hedon, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. Shot by Andy Beecroft, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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