Wheat ear
Super-yielding wheat may solve food crisis

A CSIRO research team has made a chance discovery that could increase Australian wheat production by 30 per cent a year, The Australian reports.
Grains Research & Development Corporation chief John Harvey described the discovery as ‘serendipitous’, and worldwide it is being heralded as a potential solution for future food shortages.
The breakthrough occurred while researchers were experimenting with the genetic make-up of wheat, Mr Harvey says.
“Researchers at CSIRO’s division of Plant Industry were looking at ways to change starch in wheat (for industrial processing reasons) and noticed when they grew (these new wheat types) the plants ended up 30 per cent larger, with 30 per cent bigger heads and a 30 per cent increase in grain yield.”
This ‘super wheat’ is being grown in three locations around Australia after initially being bred in Canberra by the research team headed by Matthew Morell. Researchers hope this advancement will provide the leap in wheat productivity for which they have searched for years.
CSIRO Plant Industry chief Jeremy Burdon says that researchers have changed their approach since the 1960s and 1970s from creating disease resistant varieties of wheat, to increasing wheat biomass and grain head yields.
“That’s why this new development is potentially so significant; a 30 per cent yield increase is an extraordinary achievement if it can be replicated in the field.”
Wheat is one of the most important food crops, with an estimated 650 million tonnes produced globally each year. Australia produced a record 29.5 million tonnes last year. With world wheat prices hitting a record high in recent times due to drought in the US, Canada and Russia, the expectation is that process will rise in the next five to ten years.
“With this technology, we see more vigorous wheat with larger seed heads, and larger seed,” said Bruce Lee, director of CSIRO’s Food Futures Flagship.
“If we can achieve significant yield increases in the field, this will have a major impact on food production on a global scale.”
The new wheat ‘GWD variety’ is jointly owned by CSIRO and grower-funded GRDC, and multinational chemical and seed company Bayer has signed a joint venture agreement to commercialise the new wheat on a global scale.
“This is a complex scientific challenge and a long road for development, which we believe will benefit from partnerships with some of the best innovators in the world to help wheat farmers access these significant gains sooner,” Bayer Crop Science business head Mathias Kremer said.

Mr Harvey said that all field trials will initially be conducted within Australia.