Key role in wheat quest

NSW Department of Primary Industries researcher, Richard Hayes, inspects perennial wheat evaluation trials near Cowra, now home to Australia's largest planting of perennial wheat.
NSW Department of Primary Industries researcher, Richard Hayes, inspects perennial wheat evaluation trials near Cowra, now home to Australia's largest planting of perennial wheat.

Cowra has featured in an expansive project spanning nine countries, four continents and both hemispheres, as part of global efforts to develop perennial cereal crops.

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) researcher, Richard Hayes, said some of the most successful perennial wheat lines in the worldwide project were grown at Cowra.

“Good seasonal conditions over several years saw some wheat lines grown at Cowra persist and yield grain for four successive years,” Mr Hayes said.

“A network of 21 experiments in Australia, Italy, Turkey, Nepal, United States, Canada, Sweden, Uzbekistan and Russia delivered a broad range of outcomes, highlighting variation in performance over time and location.

“These trials have helped inform future breeding strategies and highlight the need to target specific environments rather than one generic product for one global market.

“Our data highlights the importance of using locally adapted material to develop superior lines of perennial cereals for specific environments.

“In some situations, perennial crops from barley or rye lines may be more successful than wheat lines.”

Kernza®, a perennial grain developed by the US The Land Institute, is another success story from the study and is now commercially available in a staged US release to a beer brewing company and select restaurants.

Mr Hayes said farming systems based on perennial cereal crops offer the potential to boost sustainability and increase flexibility for farmers by offering grain and grazing options.

“Perennial cereals could help farmers adapt and better manage climate variability. In marginal cropping areas, particularly in drought years, perennial wheat may allow farmers to vary their inputs, reduce costs and deliver environmental benefits,” he said.

Perennial crops can take advantage of out-of-season rain, which helps increase water-use efficiency, reduce soil acidification and salinisation and has the potential to reduce erosion.

The Sustainability journal has published Mr Hayes’ paper, ‘The performance of early-generation perennial winter cereals at 21 sites across four continents’, available now online at http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/4/1124