June 23 2010
THE production of wheat and barley varieties which can access and use nitrogen more efficiently could cut farmers’ fertiliser bills while reducing environmental damage from fertilisers leaching into the soil, especially in sandy areas.
A recently started five-year Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funded project has been set up with the goal of developing more nitrogen efficient varieties through a process of assessing genetic variability in nitrogen use efficiency in Australian wheat and barley germplasm, including advanced breeding lines.
The project involves researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA), the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) and the University of Sydney, with contributions from major Australian breeding companies.
UWA researcher Winthrop Professor Zed Rengel said high fertiliser prices were driving the development of new cultivars better able to acquire and use nitrogen.
“Modern grain production relies on relatively large amounts of synthetic fertilisers to satisfy crop demands,” he said.
“However, current fertiliser use efficiency is relatively poor – rarely better than 30 to 40 per cent – resulting in economic losses and potential environmental damage from leaching.”
Professor Rengel said a second stage of the GRDC funded project will identify molecular markers associated with nitrogen use efficiency.
“These molecular markers will be breeding tools for enhancing the level of nitrogen use efficiency in new cultivars of wheat and barley,” he said.
Professor Rengel said many wheat and barley genotypes will be screened for nitrogen use efficiency over several years at locations in WA, Victoria and New South Wales, covering a range of climate and soil conditions.
“Preliminary data from 2009 indicated genotypic differences in nitrogen use efficiency,” he said.