Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Faced with a lack of interest from commercial grain producers, an Aussie farmer has stepped in to help the CSIRO test a new strain of wheat which can be planted deeper in the soil than conventional varieties, allowing the wheat more access to retained soil moisture, potentially boosting yields by 30-40%.
Long coleoptile wheat could help farmers adapt to climate change
By Emma Field and staff
After more than two decades of searching, Australian scientists may have found the most significant climate change adaption for wheat growers.
And a determined Western Australian farmer, who wants access to the new wheat genetics, which could allow farmers to crops in hotter and drier environments, has trials of the new wheat varieties on his farm.
Wheat is the largest crop grown by Australian farmers, but climate change is threatening grain production.
How is this wheat different?
The new genetic wheat trait being tested means the plant can grow a longer coleoptile, which is the first shoot that comes out of the wheat seed when it germinates and makes its way to the surface to become the first leaf.
The longer coleoptile will allow farmers to plant the wheat seeds much deeper in the soil.
And this will be critical when summer rain moisture is deep in the soil, well below the normal 4 centimetres depth at which the grain is conventionally planted.
With a longer coleoptile, farmers could plant the wheat deeper into summer rain moisture prompting immediate germination, rather than waiting for the first autumn rain.
And in dry years when there is minimal autumn rain, like this year in Western Australia, having wheat with a longer coleoptile might be the difference between growing a crop or not.
…Read more: https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2020-08-19/long-coleoptile-wheat-genetics-and-climate-change/12566422
If you ignore the obligatory ABC genuflection to the alleged climate crisis, this appears to be an exciting development. Dwarf grains were the keystone of the 1960s green revolution, which saved much of the world from a constant threat of hunger. Instead of growing useless long stalks, dwarf grains put more of their energy into producing grain, which dramatically boosts yields.
But if I have understood this article correctly, the price of high yield dwarf grain genetics was a shorter coleoptile, the initial sprout which emerges from the seed. The short coleoptile limits how deeply seeds can be planted, which in harsh climates like Western Australia and presumably parts of Africa and the USA, limits when seeds can be planted, and increases the risk of seedlings drying out. Even in harsh Western Australian Summers there is lots of moisture buried beneath the dry surface, but short coleoptile seeds cannot be planted deeply enough to access this buried moisture.
This new grain variety potentially solves this problem by keeping the yield advantages of conventional dwarf varieties, but circumventing the effect existing dwarf genetics has on coleoptile length, creating a dwarf variety which can be planted deep enough to access buried moisture.