The early sowing of winter wheats could increase Australian wheat yields by up to 20 per cent, adding around $1.8 billion to the national economy.
For more than a century Australian growers have sown spring wheats in May or June, following the autumn rains, however, researchers from La Trobe University and the CSIRO have been investigating alternative options for the past seven years.
According to foodprocessing.com.au, lead La Trobe researcher Dr James Hunt explained that a sharp decline in autumn rainfall since the 1990s in south-eastern Australia has led to a significant reduction in wheat crop yields. This was due in part to the crops being established and flowering too late. However, growers have been able to increase their yields by pushing sowing into a narrow window in May—although this was getting harder to achieve.
“A combination of less reliable season opening rains and hot and dry springs have led to a stagnation in national wheat crop yields,” Dr Hunt told the website.
“We needed to find a genotype of wheat in which development is slowed so that sowing could be moved earlier but flowering still occurred during the optimal window.”
The research team used almost genetically identical lines of wheat developed by Dr Ben Trevaskis at CSIRO, and discovered one of the wheat lines had a novel “fast” winter development pattern.
Sown in the Mediterranean climate of the southern and western wheat belt, where most of the wheat in Australia is grown, and the winter line—if it was sown early—could yield as well orbetter than the fast spring sown at its optimal time.
Using crop simulations, they estimated national yields could increase by up to 20 per cent, producing an additional 7.1 million tonnes of wheat.