The prospect of wheat varieties carrying drought tolerance genes is exciting news for northern NSW grain grower Geoff O’Neill, of “Llano”, Bellata.
The ARC Centre of Plant Energy Biology at Australian National University has identified genes which influence how plants cope under moisture stress.
The model plants used by researchers in early trials have survived up to 50 per cent longer than a normal plant when no water was added.
They are now using that knowledge to screen wheat populations to find plants that lack copies of the crucial gene, which should mean they make more of the signal and survive longer and grow better in times of drought.
Mr O’Neill said moisture stress was an issue at some point in every growing season, and could be particularly damaging during spring when crops were flowering.
“It’s great to see this type of research from the GRDC – the whole basis of what we do is to turn moisture into grain so anything that helps our crops to survive until more water is available will be a great benefit to us,” Mr O’Neill said.
Mr O’Neill farms 6000 hectares of mostly dryland, black soil country, with a mixture of summer grain and cotton, and winter cereals and legumes.
The property receives an annual average rainfall of 590mm, and although it falls predominantly in summer, the most useful rain arrives during the winter months.
“Our soils store a lot of moisture, but in crop rain is always much better,” he said.
“In years when the rainfall outlook is marginal, or our subsoil moisture is not ideal, having varieties with the ability to tolerate moisture stress will give us a lot more confidence to go ahead and plant.”
Geoff O’Neill, ‘Llano’, Bellata, NSW
0428 668 992
Michael Thomson, Senior Consultant, Cox Inall Communications
07 4927 0805, 0408 819 666