Researchers at Murdoch University have made a major breakthrough in improving the quality of Australian wheat, increasing the protein content to more than 14 % in a new high-yielding variety.
The breakthrough provides Australia’s farmers with a stronger competitive edge against countries which have been delivering wheat with higher protein content to the world market, for blending with Australian varieties which have hitherto been low in protein and hence less preferred for various uses.
The team that made the breakthrough was led by Dr Ian Edwards, a 50-year veteran in wheat research, who leads the wheat research project at the Western Australian State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (SABC) based at Murdoch University’s campus in Perth. He also doubles as Chief Executive Officer at Edstar Genetics, the independent wheat and barley breeding company that developed the new wheat variety.
The challenge facing researchers was how to create a variety of high-protein wheat which utilises available soil nitrogen more efficiently, and could be grown in Australia’s less fertile sandy soils. These poor growing conditions and light-textured soils lead to a lower protein yield, or grain protein content (GPC). To compensate for these shortcomings, farmers add nitrogen fertiliser to wheat crops, which helps increase GPC, but also increases production costs.
Dr Edwards and his team worked for nine years to develop the variety, named tungsten, with more than 14 per cent GPC, but requiring less nitrogen fertiliser per unit of grain protein. This advantageous combination of less fertiliser and higher GPC will help lower production costs and deliver higher profits for growers. “We are now producing higher-yield wheat which can be grown in poor quality soils with lower production costs,” says Dr Edwards.
After extensive national trials at 150 sites across five Australian states, tungsten was found to have a protein content of 14 per cent, and is ready for full commercialisation in 2017. For favourable growing areas that were already producing wheat with a GPC of over 14%, tungsten is expected to achieve up to 15% GPC.
The variety is currently in large scale seed production, with 150 tonnes due to reach the market in Australia next year. Dr Edwards has participated in the development and commercial release of 53 new wheat varieties grown all over the world.
Dr Edwards talks about the breakthrough in this YouTube Video.