Tunnel vision works for climate
Despite climate change and variability across Australia’s grainbelt, with increased ambient carbon dioxide (CO2) and temperature and reduced rainfall, very little attention has been paid to the interactive effects of high temperature, CO2 and soil moisture on crop growth and yield.
That’s about to change thanks to experiments by CSIRO Plant Industry and The UWA Institute of Agriculture at The University of Western Australia (UWA), with a research team at UWA’s Shenton Park Field Station using four state-of-the-art poly tunnels to inform wheat breeders about how climate change and variability will affect the genetic traits they select for.
The sealed tunnels were designed and built as part of the ‘Climate Ready Cereals’ project funded by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the WA component is managed by CSIRO in collaboration with The UWA Institute of Agriculture.
According to CSIRO Principal Research Scientist Dr Jairo Palta, most previous studies showed individual effects on wheat yield of increased CO2, higher temperature and drought, but was unclear about how the three variables interacted and affected grain yield for different cultivars.
“The CSIRO and UWA research team should unravel the impact of this interaction during wheat growth and the critical stages of flowering and grain filling,” Dr Palta said.
Tunnel temperatures vary from ambient to six degrees celsius above ambient and CO2 levels vary from ambient (approx 380ppm) to about double at 700ppm.
WA, Australia’s largest grain-producing state, is forecast to become drier, while all regions will likely be exposed to higher temperatures and elevated CO2.
The UWA Institute of Agriculture Director, Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique, said that grain productivity and quality must be sustained or increased in the face of increasing demand for food, stockfeed and fuel for WA to maintain its cereal supplies and competitive export status.
“Based on current physiological knowledge, some wheat germplasm, contrasting for traits, will likely differ in yield response to climate change and variability,” Professor Siddique said.