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Improving water use efficiency and drought tolerance in UK winter wheats - LK0986

Currently, about 30% of UK wheat is grown on drought-prone land and drought losses are on average 1-2 t ha-1, which costs >£40M per year . This means that even in years with ‘normal’ rainfall, potential yield and grain quality are affected by insufficient water at some time during crop development. Furthermore, climate change is predicted to have major impacts by 2020, particularly in southern and eastern UK. Mean summer temperatures are expected to increase 1-2oC and mean summer rainfall decrease by 20% . This will result in increasing drought stress for all summer crops and is likely to have a serious impact on agricultural practices and yields of the wheat crop.

Increasingly, summertime water resources are insufficient to meet the competing needs of urban, agricultural and natural sites, particularly in eastern and southern parts of the country. The economic and environmental sustainability of the rural landscape depends on discovering how to improve the use of water in the production of harvestable products.

Wheat is the main arable crop in Britain, and therefore consumes more water than any other. However, despite evidence that there is genetic variability for water use efficiency (WUE) and drought tolerance in UK germplasm , breeders find it difficult and costly to breed effectively for these traits. The practical impacts of genomic approaches to breeding for drought tolerance still lie well in the future, and current mapping populations, generated for other reasons, are not necessarily best suited for examining WUE. While genomic technologies have advanced dramatically in recent years, the widely recognised bottleneck to continued progress is the ability to accurately describe the phenotype of genetic stocks at the whole-plant level under field conditions .

There is increasing risk that varieties developed to perform well under favourable conditions will yield poorly when conditions are dry, which is disastrous for farmers and seed companies. Currently, breeders do not measure the extent of variation in drought tolerance in their germplasm, nor do they have suitable selection criteria derived from physiological or morphological traits. Hence, little or no progress is being made in adapting wheat cultivars to climate change. Furthermore, there is no reliable information on which of the existing wheat varieties uses water more efficiently. Previous work in this area examined only a small number of UK genotypes.
Compute a drought stress index (DSI) for each variety trial and rank entries according to yield performance across a range of sites varying in DSI22.

Evaluation of morpho-physiological traits on a panel of diverse wheat germplasm under managed drought conditions

Genotyping contrasting lines using markers associated with yield, drought tolerance and WUE. This work will be conducted by RAGT.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2010

Cost: £303,260
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Rothamsted Research (BBSRC), RAGT Seeds Ltd, CPB Twyford Ltd, Home Grown Cereals Authority, Nickerson UK Ltd
Arable Farming              
Crop Improvement              
Wheat Production              
Fields of Study
Agriculture and Climate Change