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Russian Revolution Could Save Aussie Wheat

Adnan Riaz speed breeding wheat varieties.

Adnan Riaz speed breeding wheat varieties.

By Lee Hickey

Ancient wheat varieties that survived the Siege of Leningrad have rare genes that offer resistance to important diseases affecting Australian wheat.

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The human population is expected to reach nine billion by the year 2050, and will strain global resources. Modern plant breeding and a switch to monoculture cropping has greatly improved yield and quality, but a lack of genetic variation has left crops more vulnerable to new diseases and climate change.

Fortunately, diverse landraces selected and grown by farmers prior to modern breeding are preserved in seed banks around the world. These seed could be the key to rediscovering lost diversity that could ensure a stable food supply for years to come.

Genetic Diversity Improves Wheat Production
Over the past 100 years, plant breeders in Australia have increased wheat yield on farms from 0.5 t/ha to approximately 2 t/ha. During a period referred to as the “Green Revolution” in the 1940s–60s, plant breeders achieved large gains in yield by selecting wheat varieties that were shorter. It wasn’t rocket science, but rather a simple strategy that enabled plants to produce more grain without falling over. This feature matched well with large-scale agricultural systems that use irrigation, fertiliser, pesticides and machinery.

Since this major advance in productivity, the rate of gain for farm yield has slowed to just 1% per year. This estimate includes gains from both breeding and improved management practices. It’s clear that wheat...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.