No more food scarcity, scientists discover new way to get 6 wheat crops a year

New crop technique saves 800 million hungry people worldwide

Golden Agri
A worker walks through soybean plants in a farm in the city of Primavera do Leste in the central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Reuters

Scientists have come up with a new technique for speed breeding crops which can help in pacing up crop research by making it easier for scientists to find more efficient and productive varieties and hybrids.

Researchers from John Innes Centre, University of Queensland and University of Sydney, created an artificial environment by building a glasshouse with enhanced lighting. They recreated the day-long process required for speeding up crop production. The team successfully managed to produce wheat from seed to seed process in just eight weeks.

The results, published in Nature Plants, show that the discovery is a major breakthrough as the experiment proves that it is possible to grow six generations of wheat every year, thus leading to a three-fold increase in annual crop breeding.

Due to global warming, extreme climate change and depressing economic conditions, staple crop production has been seeing a major setback in the last couple of years. This finding can help in solving food scarcity and tackling the issue of feeding the growing global population as well as the climatic changes.

This new development is reminiscent of the shuttle breeding technique introduced after World War Two as part of the Green Revolution. Norman Ernest Borlaug's shuttle breeding technique that led to the Green Revolution to tackle the consequences of the war. He began growing two crops of wheat a year in contrast to the growing conditions. The shuttle breeding technique produced adaptive wheat that generated twice the production potential.

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"Globally, we face a huge challenge in breeding higher yielding and more resilient crops. Being able to cycle through more generations in less time, will allow us to more rapidly create and test genetic combinations," said Brande Wulff of the John Innes Centre, Norwich, the lead author.

Wulff further stated that speed breeding offers a new technology that helps in producing healthier plants compared to those produced under standard conditions.

The technique can be implemented in standard glass house model as well. It used LED lights optimised to help in the process of photosynthesis in a rigorous process that lasted up to 22 hours per day. The LED lights are more cost-effective when compared to sodium vapour lamps.

The team also claims that the speed breeding technique can be used for an important range of crops. They were successful in producing six generations of bread wheat, durum wheat, barley, pea, and chickpea and four generations of canola per year.

This process saw a significant increase in crop production compared to the number of crops produced under commercial breeding techniques. It can also help in better understanding of the genetics of crops. The plant pathogen interactions, plant shape and structure, and flowering time can also be thoroughly studied using this technique.

Once the humanity achieves higher agricultural productivity in the coming decade, it will cover rises in food demand, leading to stable prices and ensure a period of more restrained agricultural markets, the UN body Food and Agriculture Oganization (FAO) said in a report in July 2017.

Going by an estimate of FAO, the number of under-nourished people in the world stands at 11 percent, or nearly 800 million now. Bringing it to zero percent of the global population, or achieving no food scarcity will now be possible if crop production doubles the yield per year under this new technique.

This article was first published on January 3, 2018