Washington State U Leads Heat Tolerant Grain Effort

$16 million probe seeks varieties to meet climate changes.

Published on: May 3, 2013

As climate change issues continue to absorb farm research dollars and time, Washington State University scientists now have a lead role in a $16.2 million thrust to bring new wheats into reality that can tolerate higher temperatures.

As the controversy over whether global warming will impact ag significantly continues, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and the Directorate of Wheat Research is putting big money into new hot climate wheats.

It is all part of the U.S. government "Feed the Future" effort to attack global hunger and food security with new research.

But don't expect a big yield right away. Scientists say it could be about five years before a so-called "climate resilient" variety is delivered to growers.

New wheats that tolerate drought and heat better are under development under Washington State University leadership.
New wheats that tolerate drought and heat better are under development under Washington State University leadership.

The study is focused on the North  Indian River Plain.

"The project will benefit all wheat growing regions of the world," proclaims Kulvinder Gill, project director.

Researchers are combining conventional with new breeding tools to achieve their  goals to identify genes that can tolerate heat better. The wheat plant's productivity falls off dramatically when temperatures rise much above 82 degrees F, and the effects are most dramatic in the flowering stage of the plant.

Every rise of just a couple of degrees above 82 in the flowering stage can cut yields by up to 4%.

Support from USAID will leverage more than $11 million  from other partners in the research and fund WSU's work. The effort will include researchers from Kansas State University and DuPont's Pioneer company.

Some of the studies are underway in India as well, with 35 PhD students and 30 post-doc researchers on the job.

The project continues work by Gill to help wheat plants deal with a number of environmental stresses. He is in the later stages of a three-year, $1.6 million National Science Foundation grant study to develop a drought-tolerant "desert wheat."