Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 095 November-December 2011 - North
TOMORROW'S NEW VARIETIES ARE IN THE POST By Catherine Norwood n The epicentre of an international network spanning almost 100 countries and more than 1000 research collaborators is the mailroom at CIMMYT's El Batán headquarters in Mexico. This is where seed from the 'international wheat nurseries' is collated and distributed across the globe. A CIMMYT nursery is a collection of the most promising of CIMMYT's new lines, pre-selected for the most sought- after traits for the target destination. For the man in charge of wheat nurseries, Dr Tom Payne, it is gratifying to walk through the stacked boxes ready for distribution and see so many diverse locations on the labels -- everywhere from Argentina to Uganda. He considers this the "diplomatic arm" of what CIMMYT does -- disseminating varieties around the world for testing, but also collating research data and making it publicly available; bridging the boundaries of politics and resource scarcity. CIMMYT breeders, pathologists and physiologists identify the most promising lines from their trials for inclusion in the nurseries. These lines go through a rigorous multiplication process and are grown out at several locations to ensure they are disease free. Back at CIMMYT headquarters the seed is inspected, washed, packaged, and assembled into 'nurseries'. There may only be a thimbleful of seed provided for each line, but it's enough to grow a test plot or two of the line and, with the seed harvested, begin the process of evaluation for further testing or national variety certification trials. Each nursery is targeted to one of the major wheat growing 'mega-environments', such as dryland, high rainfall or irrigated. Nurseries research today International collaboration NOVEMBER -- DECEMBER 2011 GROUND COVER 17 Climate hit "In a recently published study, researchers found significant climate change effects already for crops like wheat," Dr Lumpkin says. "Climate shifts over the past three decades have been linked to a 5.5 per cent decline in global wheat production. "Based on leading models, it is realistic to assume that by 2050 higher temperatures will cut wheat yields by 20 to 30 per cent in developing countries, if no mitigating measures are taken." In response, Dr Lumpkin is advocating a bolder, more ambitious R&D agenda, one that exceeds short-term concerns about food security. "We need to become so productive with agriculture that land currently under the plough can be returned to nature ... particularly highly erodible lands, areas of high natural biodiversity, and regions where water is running out," Dr Lumpkin says. He adds that people on marginal land do not want to live hand-to-mouth, watching their children die in front of them in impoverished villages. "We need to bring sustainable productivity to the whole world to reduce the misery, the impacts of climate change and the footprint of agriculture on the environment." Ultimately, CIMMYT believes the world needs 60 per cent more wheat at affordable prices by 2050. To achieve that level of gain, private and public institutions have joined with CIMMYT to form a Wheat Yield Potential Consortium. The unofficial launch of the consortium occurred in November 2009 when more than 60 participants from over 30 nations gathered for a USAID-sponsored symposium at CIMMYT's Mexico headquarters. Dr Lumpkin says that Australian scientists and institutions are key players and include CSIRO's Dr Richard Richards, Dr Bob Furbank and Dr Tony Condon. CIMMYT is also looking to agronomy to make productivity gains. Dr Lumpkin explains that CIMMYT had to rebuild its agronomy program -- a victim of budget cuts during the 1990s and 2000s -- and is drawing on Australia's expertise with conservation and precision agriculture. The focus is to adapt these farming techniques for the developing world, often with the help of ACIAR. "The challenge is to develop farming systems and varieties that not only compensate for the negative impact of climate change but also allow farmers to produce significantly higher yields by making more effective use of irrigation water and nutrients," he says. "That is what CIMMYT does well -- nurturing innovation from many partners around the world and bringing them together in packages that we can adapt for poorer farmers." Also part of the challenge is promoting investment in wheat R&D, currently hovering at US$350 to $400 million a year -- a fraction of the US$2 billion invested in maize. Dr Lumpkin says inadequate investment levels are one of the reasons wheat yield gains have slowed globally. However, the exception is Australia. "The GRDC has maintained a high level of investment in wheat research and on a per-hectare basis, no other country invests as much in wheat research as Australia," he says. That innovation, foresight and collaboration can make a big difference and is highlighted in an impact study published in Science. It found that without the improved varieties developed by international centres such as CIMMYT, crop yields in 2000 would have been about 20 per cent lower, prices as much as 66 per cent higher, caloric intake about 14 per cent lower in the developing world, and the proportion of malnourished children eight per cent higher. The next Green Revolution, however, comes with the added need of gains in sustainability, not just productivity. "Every day at CIMMYT we think about 2050, about the farming conditions we face," he says. "It takes scientists 15 to 20 years to get innovations into farmers' fields. So we must use foresight now to prepare for a very challenging future." □ GRDC Research Code CIM00015 More information: Mike Listman, CIMMYT, firstname.lastname@example.org Glasshouses at CIMMYT: the source of most of the germplasm in modern Australian wheat varieties. PHOTO: CATHERINE NORWOOD PHOTO: CATHERINE NORWOOD incorporate sought-after traits being developed for the relevant mega-environment, such as drought tolerance in dryland areas, or specific disease resistance in the higher rainfall zones. The nurseries are distributed free of charge, although receiving countries may be required to pay local quarantine or customs fees. In return, there is a tacit agreement that collaborators will evaluate the material sent to them under their own conditions and provide data from their trials to CIMMYT. On average, about half of the participants return data. This kind of evaluation network also enhances the eyes and ears of CIMMYT scientists, he says. "We don't have enough scientists to look at the conditions in 100 different countries every year or to assess the performance of new lines in those locations. But through this network we are able to call on local scientists. We then process the data, collate it in a global report and make communicate very well with one another." Through the GRDC, Australia also participates in CIMMYT's international nurseries program, although this has been hampered in the past by quarantine regulations and the subsequent time lag between receiving seed and final trial results. For several years the GRDC funded the CIMMYT--Australian Germplasm Exchange (CAGE) project to help streamline this process. Three years ago it was extended to include germplasm from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dryland Areas (ICARDA), based in Syria. Professor Richard Trethowan at the Plant Breeding Institute, University of Sydney, now leads the CIMMYT-Australia-ICARDA Germplasm Evaluation (CAIGE) project, which coordinates the import and distribution of germplasm in Australia and the collation of results. Australia's quarantine regulations require plants to be grown-out in secure facilities to ensure they are disease-free before distribution for research. This puts Australia two to three years behind the rest of the world. Dr Payne says under new arrangements through CAIGE, Australia now receives 'candidate' germplasm and begins quarantine procedures before CIMMYT researchers have made their final selection of lines for inclusion in international nurseries. Some of these lines are then selected by Australian researchers during visits to CIMMYT. Seed is sent to Australia by November, for grow-out in quarantine during summer. "So now, when the decision is made at CIMMYT about what's going to be distributed globally, it is already in Australia, ready for seed multiplication." He says the other problem that the CAIGE program has helped to overcome is the return of data from Australian trials. The delay between receiving germplasm and the conclusion of trials may have been up to four years in the past, and the time lag made it more difficult to get timely evaluation data. CAIGE communication project coordinator and data administrator Sandra Micallef says there are four wheat breeders in Australia using germplasm from CIMMYT and ICARDA and about 20 pre-breeders, although this varies from year to year. "We don't always have enough seed for everyone who wants to participate, but if we do then whoever is willing to conduct trials is welcome to take part," she says. □ GRDC Research Code US00045 More information: Sandra Micallef, 0416 331 101, email@example.com; www.grdc.com.au/US00045 it available for anyone in the world to use." Science without borders Analysing and sharing nursery results allows information from zones that are environmentally similar but separated by geography or politics to benefit from each other's research data. "This is a way of allowing us to break down political barriers, not just between nations, but often within the same country. Research groups don't always CIMMYT's Dr Tom Payne with seed packages ready for distribution.
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