News / Economy

Wheat Reaches its Limit

Study says crop has achieved its genetic potential

Multimedia

Audio

The world's population keeps growing, but the amount of wheat farmers worldwide are able to grow per hectare has leveled off.

According to a new study, that's because breeders and researchers have reached the limit of how much grain the wheat plant can produce.

The authors say achieving higher per-hectare yields of the world's third-most important cereal crop in the coming years will require a major scientific breakthrough.

Researchers looked at yields from wheat varieties bred by companies and universities across the North American Great Plains dating back to 1959.

"In the 50 years of breeding history, we've essentially almost doubled our genetic potential for yield," says wheat geneticist Bob Graybosch with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the lead author of the new study in the journal Crop Science.

Peaked in the '90s

Unfortunately, Graybosch says, "There's got to be an upper limit on how much they can do, and it maybe looks like we're approaching that upper limit."

Data from Great Plains breeders show their varieties reached peak yields in the early-to-mid-1990s and have been leveling off ever since.

Graybosch says the last major leap forward in wheat genetics took place in the 1960s, and scientists will need to make another leap forward in order to keep up with population growth.

However, he notes that the study only talks about the crop's genetic potential - the plant's innate ability to produce grain.

Fertilize, irrigate

"If we need more wheat," he says, "we can produce a lot more wheat."

Farmers in his state of Nebraska could double or triple the crop by using more irrigation or fertilizer. But that would be expensive.

Graybosch says farmers looking to produce more simply based on improvements in the crop's genetic potential may be out of luck.

"The farmers that are growing dry-land wheat may see the same yields from now on," he says. "They may not see increases in yield under dry-land conditions because we simply are shuffling the same genetic deck out there."

Many scientists acknowledge that wheat yields worldwide are not increasing fast enough to keep up with population growth. But they disagree on whether plant breeders have actually pushed wheat to its grain-producing limit. Breeders at some institutes outside the U.S. are still making improvements in the plant's genetic potential.

Defensive breeding

The reason yields have flattened out in the Great Plains, according to Brett Carver at Oklahoma State University, is that breeders have had to focus on developing resistance to diseases that plague the crop.  

"We spend so much more time now looking at those yield-depressing factors that we tend to gravitate away from just going on the offense: breeding for yield outright," Carver says. "When you spend more time on defense, that's less time on offense."

Hans Joachim Braun directs the global wheat program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center based in Mexico. He says wheat production worldwide has flattened out, but that it has more to do with farming practices than genetics. However, Braun adds, breeders will need to step up their efforts because demand for wheat is expected to grow by 50 to 70 percent by mid-century.

"And this is a real challenge, because wheat is very sensitive to higher increasing temperature. And if the temperature goes up as predicted due to global climate change, they may have maybe 20 to 25 percent less yields."

So even if there is genetic potential left in the wheat plant, Braun says feeding more mouths while fighting the effects of climate change will pose a major challenge to crop research for decades to come.

You May Like

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the US are seeing gas prices dip below $3 a gallon More

Afghan Women's Soccer Team Building for the Future

A four-team female league was recently set up in Kabul; It will help identify players for the national team More

Video Koreas on Edge Amid Live-fire Drills

Pyongyang threatens nuclear test as joint US, S. Korean exercises show forces’ capabilities More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8050
JPY
USD
117.90
GBP
USD
0.6376
CAD
USD
1.1259
INR
USD
61.655

Rates may not be current.