Setting course to discover barley yield treasure

Author: Alistair Lawson | Date: 21 Jan 2015

Kenton Porker in a barley plot at the Loxton Research Centre Kenton Porker at the Loxton Research Centre.

A PhD student at the University of Adelaide is looking to unlock the mystery behind the improved adaptation and yield performance of Compass barley, which could provide insights into the genetic basis of further improving yield potential.

On average, Compass has performed 10 per cent higher in yield than Commander, the current leading benchmark malting variety across National Variety Trials.

Through funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation, University of Adelaide and Playford Memorial Trust, Kenton Porker is aiming to understand the developmental pattern contributing to an increase in the yield performance of Compass across a broad range of environments. 

“Even though two varieties may look very similar and flower at a similar date, the series of phenology events that occur prior to flowering may be radically or subtly different,” Mr Porker says. “This has large implications for the generation of yield and its components.”

Mr Porker hopes to provide insights into the physiological and genetic basis of raising yield potential and improving agronomic management.

“Compass is such a unique step in yield and an exciting variety,” he says.  “As much as we already know about barley yield improvement over the last 20 years, Compass has proven there is much more to learn.”

The project has field trials at Charlick (near Strathalbyn), Loxton and Waite in South Australia and Narrabri and Condobolin in New South Wales. Trials are also being conducted in controlled growth rooms to generate specific photoperiod and temperature regimes.

Early results from the project have shown that Commander  is more photoperiod-sensitive – its rate of growth and maturity is more sensitive to the amount of light it receives each day – than Compass.  

“If you grow these varieties under really long days, Commander will flower earlier than Compass because it is progressed by day length much more rapidly,” Mr Porker says. “It also means that Commander will grow at a much slower rate than Compass during the short days of winter and when the days become longer Commander effectively tries to catch back up, coinciding with the critical period in which final grain number is being determined.

“What we’re seeing is that Compass gets into the late reproductive phase a lot earlier than Commander in most environments and sowing dates and does not abort as many potential grains,” Mr Porker said.

Mr Porker aims to find out the combination of genes controlling phenology and improved adaptation in barley, such as photoperiod and vernalisation. 

“We don’t know the optimum combination,” he said. “Why Compass has a 10pc yield improvement is a good starting point to find out what its development pattern looks like and to understand the genes controlling it.”

“Once we first understand the role different development patterns play in yield generation, and the most desirable combination of phenology genes, we can begin to develop molecular tools to assist breeders in selection of traits that may increase the likelihood of developing varieties with superior adaptation to Australian environments.”

Depending on results, Mr Porker says the project could set a new benchmark for all barley varieties.

“We don’t really know why Commander is higher yielding than Buloke, and now Compass has come along and is higher yielding than Commander, so I’m going to try and fill that knowledge gap.

“Matching phenology to the environment is critical in optimising yield. There is real potential to further fine-tune crop development”.

Mr Porker believes a better understanding of fundamental crop physiology and trying to bring together the genotype by environment by management interactions could lead to further yield improvement.


More information

Kenton Porker,

GRDC Project Code GRS10690

Region South, North