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Australia leads crop water use research

28 September 2004

Australia is leading the world in successfully increasing crop yields in water-scarce environments by targeting physiological traits, according to CSIRO Plant Industry researcher Dr Richard Richards.

Dr Richards was speaking today at the 4th International Crop Science Congress in Brisbane. The Congress has brought together over 1000 delegates from 65 countries to focus on the key issues for cropping systems that provide food, feed and fibre for the world.

“Despite substantial physiological research into understanding the response of plants to drought around the world, there are few examples where this research has led to improved varieties,” says Dr Richards.

While acknowledging that selecting directly for physiological traits can present difficulties, Dr Richards believes there are good reasons why such traits are a good target for breeders, including faster yield gains and greater cost-effectiveness.

“Despite few examples of this approach, there have been real long term gains made in this area, especially in Australia, where water scarcity is a particular challenge.”

Dr Richards cites seven examples, including five from Australia, in a paper delivered to the Congress this week:

  • Extended crop duration in wheat;
  • Increased axial resistance in wheat roots;
  • Anthesis-silking interval in maize (Mexico, Africa);
  • Nitrogen fixation in soybean (USA);
  • Transpiration efficiency in wheat;
  • Osmotic adjustment in wheat; and
  • Stay-green in sorghum (in collaboration with USA)

Other physiological traits in wheat that are in advanced stages of validation or breeding for water-limited environments in Australia are new dwarfing genes that improve crop establishment and early growth, enhanced shoot and root vigour, reduced tillering and greater stem carbohydrate storage.

“Australian research, particularly in wheat, is leading the world in taking an innovative approach to increasing crop yield and food production by targeting new physiological traits,” he concluded.

4ICSC would like to thank all its supporters including the following major sponsors:
AusAID, CSIRO, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and QDPI

More information:
Cathy Reade, Media Manager, 4th International Crop Science Congress
Mobile: 0413 575 934

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