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GRDC invests $1.9m in research for climate-resilient crops

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Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC), Media Release, 15 February 2024

The Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC) has partnered with the Australian National University (ANU) and industry partners to invest in research to accelerate the development of climate-resilient crops.

The three-year $1.9 million investment will focus on the development of heat tolerant wheat genetics, as well as determining what makes a wheat crop able to survive, grow and produce yields under high-temperature conditions.

Director of the Agrifood Innovation Institute (AFII) at ANU, Professor Owen Atkin, said rising global temperatures were already having an impact on crop yields in critical food-producing regions in both Australia and overseas.

“In recent years we have seen an increase in heat waves induced by global warming, which have impacted wheat production across Australia and the world,” Professor Atkin said.

“Every one-degree increase in global mean temperature is predicted to result in a six to 10 per cent decrease in wheat yields.

“This is extremely concerning given the pressing need to increase Australia’s crop productivity in line with a growing global population.”

GRDC genetic technologies manager Prameela Vanambathina said that while breeders were doing a good job of producing wheat germplasm that is more heat tolerant, there are still unanswered questions about leaf carbon exchange that could fast-track outcomes.

“Leaf carbon exchange refers to the combination of two key processes: photosynthesis (taking in carbon dioxide from the air and using sunlight to turn it into food for the plant), and respiration (using that food to support plant growth while also releasing carbon dioxide back out into the atmosphere),” Ms Vanambathina said.

“We know high temperatures accelerate the development of wheat, inhibit flower development, and reduce the efficiency of photosynthesis, stunting a plant’s growth and reducing yields.

“But we don’t yet understand what processes are responsible for the variation in heat tolerance of Australian germplasm – which limits the breeders’ ability to introduce and develop heat tolerance into modern crops.”

The research being undertaken by the ANU-led team – in partnership with University of Sydney, University of New England, University of Western Australia, InterGrain and overseas partners – will aim to understand the genetic basis for heat tolerance in wheat crops, so that ultimately, producers will have access to more heat-resistant varieties.

“This investment in ground-breaking research and development is just one of the ways GRDC is committed to building a more sustainable, productive and profitable Australian grain sector,” Ms Vanambathina said.

About Us: GRDC is one of 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) responsible for planning, investing in and overseeing research, development and extension for 25 leviable grain crops. Our purpose is to invest in RD&E to create enduring profitability for Australian grain growers.

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