Can climate projections aid in wheat breeding?

By Kathryn Ingerslew

Dr. Graham Farquhar addressing a question from the audience at Borlaug 100.

Graham Farquhar of the Australian National University addresses a question from the audience at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security. Photo by Kathryn Ingerslew

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico – The future of breeding wheat to grow in a climate-changed world is in flux.

Graham Farquhar, a scientist at the Australian National University in Canberra, said Thursday that long-term climate predictions cannot yet provide the kind of detailed information on future conditions in specific regions to be useful to breeders.

The climate may be hotter, cooler, wetter or drier in different regions, and several climate-change models disagree on just how it will all play out, Farquhar said at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security.

“There could be surprises,” he said, referring to how rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere might affect photosynthesis, flowering and other key aspects of plant growth.

The bottom line: wheat breeders who are seeking guidance on how to direct their efforts for breeding seeds with the best traits for their corners of the world are on their own. Such traits might include drought tolerance and pest resistance.

Farquhar advised them to be prepared for everything, leaving wheat breeders without solid direction for now.

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