Theme two: Improving crop yield

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Juan Juttner

We aim to build the largest silo – other factors determine whether it is filled.

Improving crop yield is the first building block to higher production per hectare. It is about maximising the yield component of the genetic recipe of cereal, pulse and oilseed varieties.

Research investments in this theme are based on careful consideration of competing priorities. Will the greatest return come from breeding for improved flowering time, improved water use efficiency, frost tolerance, salt tolerance or in how the plant partitions resources to grain production?

Each variety has a finite capacity to produce grain under standardised circumstances. This capacity is unlikely to be realised because yields are reduced by weeds, disease, pests, inadequate nutrition and environmental effects such as drought and frost.

However, improvements in yield potential and yield stability under these same conditions will still give more grain from the same inputs. While the theme name emphasises improved yield, increasing on-farm return on investment remains at the forefront of the investment strategies.

The GRDC’s investment under this theme targets research that helps breeders speed the rate of increase of genetic yield potential in the varieties they release as well as the stability of varieties under different environmental conditions.

Through national programs, such as the National Brassica Germplasm Improvement program, the GRDC will assist pre-breeders and breeders to increase their level of collaboration. For each crop type, they will collectively identify and prioritise the traits, tools and germplasm required to support the targeted gains in yield and stability.

As cereals, pulses and oilseeds have very different plant breeding histories, the answers differ from species to species.

Four people standing in a field.

Northern Regional Panel member John Sheppard
(right) and Improving Crop Yield theme coordinator
Juan Juttner (left) visiting the GRDC-funded CIMMYT
project in southern Turkey on identifying genetic
variation for nematode and crown rot resistance, with
the leaders of the project Dr Gül Erginbas (second
from left) and Dr Amer Dababat.

This theme also considers the needs of the various climatic zones and seasonal conditions. Yield stability will receive greater attention, recognising that stability of a potentially lower-yielding variety can be an important risk mitigation tool.

To select improved varieties most suited to their situations and needs, growers need improved access to reliable data. This data needs to be incorporated into tools to help them make those selections on the basis of profitability, sustainability and risk management.

Yield improvement is not solely achieved through genetic improvement. Research priorities are identified by each regional panel based on feedback from growers and advisers. For example, growers may have identified frost as a major limitation to their productivity. Breeding more frost-tolerant varieties, improved frost prediction, the use of clay spreading or rotations and even the production of barriers such as smoke or moisture could all offer profitable ways to reduce this risk. The theme team works with the panels to apply a program logic approach to all potential investments identified that relate to yield improvement.

Factors such as crop protection, nutrition and managing soil moisture for higher crop yields are addressed in other themes but can all affect yield potential.

The GRDC team works with colleagues in other themes to assess which proposals have commonality, crossover or offer better returns. This approach can focus investment on the projects most likely to result in profitable on-farm practice change.

More information:

Juan Juttner, senior manager discovery, theme coordinator improving crop yield, GRDC,
02 6166 4500

Region National