Perennial grain progress
From the October 2011 edition of Agriculture Today.
At the forefront of a global initiative, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) researchers have revealed their contribution to the development of perennial grain at an international workshop in Michigan, US.
For the first time anywhere, US developed perennial hybrids in field trials at Cowra and Woodstock survived and successfully yielded grain for three consecutive years.
Now seed from the Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station is destined for the US, Canada, South Africa, Nepal and the UK as the quest to produce the first commercial perennial wheat intensifies.
DPI scientist, Richard Hayes, said there was a lot of excitement in the results from local field trials, shown at the workshop in the US.
“The varieties we had success with had not survived more than two years in the US, where the plants originated,” Mr Hayes said.
“We are now collaborating with plant breeders across the world, in a study to help understand the key environmental factors enabling perennial crops to survive and find out what inhibited their survival.
“Introduction of perennial grain crops that don’t require annual sowing would minimise inputs and offer environmental benefits to farming systems in many countries.”
The NSW trials also found most of the successful lines were highly resistant to leaf rust, stripe rust, stem rust and wheat streak mosaic virus.
“That’s good news, not just for the productivity and survival of perennial wheat, but in ensuring it causes no disease impacts on conventional cereal crops,” Mr Hayes said.
The trials were part of a collaborative project with Charles Sturt University and CSIRO, funded by the Future Farm Industries Co-operative Research Centre.
Mr Hayes said the project, due to wind-up this year, had allowed Australian researchers to forge strong relationships with international research institutions, including Washington and Michigan State Universities and The Land Institute in Kansas.
“Economists from the University of Michigan are keen to use Australian agronomic data to underpin economic models for these potential new crops,” he said.
“They had no real agronomic data on perennial wheat crops and we were able to provide it.”
The seed for the Australian research came from plant breeders at Washington State and The Land Institute, which was mainly derived from crossing annual wheat with perennial wheatgrasses.
Perennial crops might offer options for farming widely variable landscapes and environments, and have the potential to address climate variability by adding flexibility to farming systems.
Mr Hayes said depending on the season, a perennial crop could be grazed or harvested for grain.
“In lower rainfall areas, particularly in drought years, perennial cereals may allow farmers to vary their inputs, reduce costs and deliver environmental benefits,” he said.
“Crops which are in the ground for several years can take advantage of every drop of rain that falls, which will also help increase soil moisture use, reduce soil acidification and salinisation with the potential to reduce erosion.”
At the Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station, the long-term crossbreeding program to develop homegrown perennial wheat is using an Australian native.
Researcher, Matt Newell, said common wheatgrass, Elymus scaber, had the potential to crossbreed with annual bread wheats.
The Elymus species has been used to produce hybrids with wheat, barley and rye.
Mr Newell is cross-pollinating native plants grown from seed gathered in the Canowindra, Ganmain, Holbrook,Wagga Wagga and Orange districts.
“We have chosen 15 bread wheat parents which have the best potential to crossbreed, such as the varieties used to breed triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye,” he said.
It will take years to produce viable hybrids, breed the plants and produce enough seed for a series of greenhouse and on-farm trials.