Australia leads global effort to break wheat yield ceiling

Author: GRDC | Date: 01 Dec 2015

Key points:

IWYP video screen shot
  • Researches from six Australian institutions are part of multinational projects selected in the first round of the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP)
  • By pooling the world’s best science and research efforts, IWYP’s long-range, calculated gamble is to lift wheat yield potential by up to 50 per cent over 20 years
  • With 100 per cent GRDC funding and a strong national R&D platform, our researchers are well supported to make a significant contribution to this global endeavour.

Australian researchers are deeply involved in the first globally-coordinated response to stagnated wheat yield progress. In October 2015, IWYP announced the eight projects selected in the first competitive call, which involved a rigorous international peer review process.

Five of the projects involve Australian researchers from the Australian National University; the universities of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Western Australia; and the CSIRO (see Table 1).

Congratulating the research teams involved, GRDC Chair Richard Clark says it is exciting that Australian researchers and the GRDC have a major role in the IWYP initiative.

“Given the calibre of grains R&D in Australia it is no surprise that three of the eight first-round projects selected are being led by Australian researchers, with an additional two projects drawing heavily on Australian input.  

The success of Australia’s research proposals demonstrates the strength of our national pre-breeding research base, its standing in the international science and, in particular, wheat research community, and its relevance to the real-world issues facing grain growers.

Urgent action needed to meet wheat demand

Globally, wheat is the most important staple crop, and with population growth and changing diets, demand is expected to increase by 60 per cent by 2050. To meet this demand, annual wheat yield increases must grow from the current level of below 1 per cent to at least 1.7 per cent.

The IWYP initiative aims to lift wheat yield potential by up to 50 per cent over 20 years. The first round of research activity focuses on issues that are likely to be of strong interest to Australian grain growers. These include optimising plant architecture, modifying flowering time, and optimising harvest index (the amount of grain as a percentage of the whole plant).

Australia’s engagement in IWYP

The GRDC is contributing more than AUD$10 million over three years to fund the Australian streams of the IWYP projects.

“IWYP is recognition that we could only ever hope to achieve the impact we need for step-change in wheat yield by coordinating worldwide research.

“And while it’s a calculated, long-range gamble that even global R&D might lead to the necessary step-change breakthroughs to lift yields, at least by working collaboratively at the international level we can offset the risks of such blue-sky R&D.”

Mr Clark says the GRDC has an important role in representing Australia’s R&D community through this global-level engagement and advocating our immense R&D capacity to help tackle the key constraint facing the wheat industry.

“As one of IWYP’s 12 investment partners, we look forward to deepening the relationship, including hosting a visit to Australia in December by key IWYP representatives, Dr Richard Flavell and Mr Steve Visscher.”

Table 1: Australian-led projects

Title Project lead Principal partners
Improving wheat yield by optimising energy use efficiency Barry Pogson,
Australian National University
  • University of Western Australia
  • University of Adelaide
Increasing carbon capture by optimizing canopy resource distribution Richard Trethowan,
University of Sydney
  • University of California, Davis (US)
  • Agharker Research Institute (India)
Three high value genes for higher wheat yield (AVP1, PSTO1, NAS) Stuart Roy,
University of Adelaide
  • University of Melbourne
  • Arizona State University (US)
  • University of California, Riverside (US)

Table 2: Significant Australian input

Title Project lead Principle partners
A CIMMYT diversity toolkit to maximise harvest index by controlling the duration of developmental phases Simon Griffiths,
John Innes Center (UK)
  • University of Bristol (UK)
  • University of Buenos Aires (Argentina)
  • ICREA (Spain)

Table 3: Additional multinational projects

Title Project lead Principle partners
Realizing increased photosynthetic efficiency to increase wheat yields Christine Raines,
University of Essex (UK)
  • Lancaster University (UK)
  • University of Illinois (US)
  • Rothamsted Research (UK)
Molecular dissection of spike yield components in wheat Cristobal Uauy,
John Innes Center (UK)
  • University of California, Davis (US)
Wider and faster: High-throughput phenotypic exploration of novel genetic variation for breeding high biomass and yield in wheat Erik Murchie,
University of Nottingham (UK)
  • University of Bristol (UK)
  • Lancaster University (UK)
  • University of Essex (UK)

Further Information:


Clare Ross
Manager Media and Issues, GRDC
(02) 6166 4565

Region National, Overseas