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Perennial wheat stars on world stage

Global food security has inspired interest in perennial wheat research with a local trial, which is gaining traction with scientists, policy makers and farmers across the world, now on YouTube

Department of Primary Industries (DPI) research was highlighted at a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation forum in Rome last month and now the 2013 International Grassland Congress in Sydney, September 15 -19, has put perennial wheat on the agenda.

DPI researcher, Matt Newell, said the Cowra-based study is testing the top six perennial wheat lines from an intensive three-year selection trial to measure their performance in grain and grazing trials to suit Australian conditions.

“Perennial wheat will need to perform as a dual-purpose wheat crop in local farming systems, capable of producing forage for livestock and grain for human consumption,” Mr Newell said.

“Benchmark targets show that perennial cereals must produce a grain yield of at least 40 per cent of that produced by annual wheat to be profitable and the shortfall in grain yield needs to be recovered in grazing value.

“It’s a long-term project to develop a new crop for Australian conditions but we are seeing in some test lines that grain yields and dry matter production can reach the production benchmarks we need for a commercially viable crop.”

The effect of grazing on plant longevity and grain yield is being assessed as the project compares perennial lines with Wedgetail, a conventional winter wheat, and intermediate wheatgrass which is a perennial grass.

Selection for improved grain yield will be balanced by the need to maximise plant longevity and ensure that production after the crop’s first year is maintained or improved.

Mr Newell said perennial cereal crops offer extra flexibility which could give farmers more choice in timing the grazing of their crops, in summer and winter.

“Farmers may be able to use perennial cereal crops as a grazing option to rest other pastures and help fill feed gaps during the season,” he said.

Seed from Cowra trial is now being tested for yield and longevity in Wagga Wagga, Toowoomba and Manjimup; and the US, Canada, Italy, Nepal, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Netherlands.

While perennial cereal research is only in its initial stages, there are many economic and environmental benefits for global agriculture if the technology can be suitably developed.

 

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