Mutual gains on waterlogged, saline soils
Two Australian and three Indian teams are working together to improve crop resilience to soil toxicities that are compromising Indian farmers’ capacity to feed their families and posing a major threat to Australian growers.
ACIAR is funding a joint project that is trialling Indian and Australian wheat varieties to identify and develop parental material for breeding with improved salt, waterlogging and micro-element tolerance and productivity.
In the latest edition of ACIAR's ‘Partners in Research for Development’ magazine, Project leader Dr Tim Setter, principal scientist with the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA), said the productivity of soils laced with sodium, boron, magnesium, bicarbonate, aluminium and iron toxicities, and associated waterlogging and salinity is already limiting production and is likely to worsen in the face of climate change.
"Salinity is complex stress, which is why decades have passed with little or no progress in varietal improvements of salt-affected soils, so if we can select the right varieties we have the potential to do something important for growers in India and Australia."
Dr Setter is leading five multi-disciplinary teams of physiologists, soil scientists, pathologists, molecular geneticists and breeders from Australia’s university of Adelaide, Murdoch University and DAFWA with India’s Directorate of Wheat Research, the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute and Narendra Deva University of Agriculture and Technology.
They are trialling Indian and Australian wheat varieties to identify and develop more resilient parental material for breeding programs. “We are only at the beginning of this field-based research,” Dr Setter says. “But by conducting research in the field and characterising target field environments we have advanced the potential for varietal improvement by decades.
“Food security is a concern in India, where we are working with an average farm size of 1 hectare, where as in Australia, the average farm size under investigation is 10,000 ha,” he said. "In dry years Australian growers may leave saline paddocks fallow, but Indian farmers don't have that luxury; they have to feed their family, so there are different priorities at play."
Dr Setter anticipates that elite germplasm combining India’s best salt-tolerant lines with highly productive drought and salt-tolerant Australian varieties will be available for breeders when the current project ends in 2012.
Read more in the latest Partners magazine.