TRAITS that used to take decades to capture in a new wheat variety, will soon be realised in just a few years, an expert breeder has told farmers.
Speaking at a recent meeting of the East Lothian Agricultural Discussion Society, independent wheat breeding consultant, Bill Angus, said that resources being poured in to new technologies, would accelerate improvements in new varieties.
Highlighting the dramatic changes that have taken place in wheat architecture over the last 50 years with consequential improvements in grain yield potential, he said much of the ‘low hanging fruit’ has been harvested and breeders were now exploring other options to increase yield.
These will involve using wider crossing, sophisticated genetic markers to track key traits, hybrid wheat as well as rapid throughput systems, such as double haploids and single seed descent, to speed the process up.
However, at the present, Mr Angus was confident that on farm yields can increase and that the so-called ‘yield plateau’ is one of our own making.
He cited examples such as shorter rotations and early sowing as increasing disease risk. These had been done for good reasons, but now we need to keep in check the consequences, he argued, citing both eyespot and septoria as the main threats.
“Yellow rust is embarrassing, but controllable, whereas septoria is a nasty pernicious disease which can devastate yield. Even low levels of this disease will reduce yield very significantly,” he emphasised.
Surprisingly, coming from a plant breeder, he encouraged growers not to stint on their fungicide applications – both for septoria and eyespot. High yield will come through complementing genetics (disease resistance) and chemistry, he said.
Whilst some would argue that good disease resistance gives growers the option to reduce fungicide rates, he argued that this could be a false economy in the Scottish environment. The ‘trick’ will be to utilise new chemistry on more disease resistant varieties but not compromise maturity.
He speculated that perhaps new hybrid wheats could be developed which had earlier maturity and yet still captured the yield potential that the Scottish environment gives.
He also urged the agronomy supply industry and official testing authorities to return to some basic agronomy work which can be applied now by growers. Funding authorities should not look at this as a backward step – ‘we have new genetics and new chemistry in the market’.
“Scotland has huge potential yields for wheat but capturing that yield under the threat of one of the most wheat disease prone environments in the world will demand more sophisticated strategic use of varieties and inputs,” he said.
“We just need to grow our wheat better and to do that growers need more information from the breeders, the agricultural supply industry, as well as the official testing authorities,” he concluded.