Wild grass could help end wheat yield stagnation

Plant scientists in Britain said May 13 that crossbreeding wheat with a type of wild goatgrass could end years of stagnation in yields with early results showing growth of up to 30 per cent.

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany said in a statement that the additional genetic diversity which the program introduced would offer new sources of yield improvement, drought tolerance and disease resistance.

“Over the years, domestication of the wheat plant has increased yields, but recently those increases have slowed, leading to concerns for future food security,” NIAB chief executive Tina Barsby said.

“This is partly because domestication has eroded wheat diversity and the possibilities for improvement from within the current wheat germplasm pool are reaching their limit.”

The national average wheat yield in Britain has stalled at around eight tonnes per hectare for the past 12 years.

Modern wheat varieties can be traced back to an original crossbreeding between an ancient wheat and wild grass species that happened in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago.

“Yield increases of up to 30 per cent have been produced in early field trials, despite the past few years being cold, wet seasons where lack of sunlight depressed yield,” plant breeder Phil Howell said.

He said new varieties would be developed adapted to future challenges such as restrictions on pesticides and fertilizers coupled with projected climate change and would be on farm by 2019 at the earliest.

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