Research aims at 20 tonnes per hectare
Twenty tonnes of wheat per hectare . . . sounds amazing, doesn't it? But that's what the boffins at Rothamsted Research are aiming for.
In what was, to my mind, quite the best of some really excellent papers presented at last week's Oxford Farming Conference, Professor Maurice Maloney from Rothamsted outlined progress in the 2020 wheat programme.
Rothamsted is, of course, the leading research organisation that now runs North Wyke grassland research station near Okehampton, and has been targeted within the past year for its research with GM trial sites elsewhere.
But it was wheat that Professor Maloney featured in his speech to a packed audience, focusing on pushing up average yields. In a delivery that would have had our forefathers shaking their heads and laughing in ridicule, he said the target for the research was 20 tonnes per hectare – looking at a range of technology, both for the UK and abroad.
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The programme examines bio-energy and CO2 fixation to reduce the carbon footprint, he insisted. The whole point of the programme was the development of sustainable systems, giving maximum performance.
Rothamsted was extremely well equipped to do this, and the philosophical approach featured learning the problems in the field, taking them back to the laboratory, and then back to the field "to prove we have beaten them".
Rothamsted had the longest-running agricultural experiment in the world, running 120 years, he stressed. Its technological interventions had seen dramatic change in yields.
Major objectives in the wheat programme centred around photosynthesis hormonal control to increase production, and identifying fungal genes – a "know your enemy" situation – and to maximise use of water in difficult soils.
Fusarium and Septoria research had produced positive outcomes so far in calculating genome involvement, while work was ongoing looking into Take-all gene resistance.
"Ultimately we believe food security is everybody's problem across the world – so we are continuing to build links globally," he asserted.
And he promised to return to the OFC next year to report on progress with 2020 wheat.