Global partnership propels wheat productivity in China

A 2014 study led by the Director of the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences shows that Chinese breeders’ use of CIMMYT breeding lines increased the country’s wheat total factor productivity as much as 14 percent in the past three decades, representing added grain worth as much as US $3.4 billion.

“Chinese wheat breeders first acquired disease resistant, semi-dwarf wheat varieties from CIMMYT in the late 1960s and incorporated desirable traits from that germplasm into their own varieties,” said Dr. Jikun Huang, Director of CCAP and first author of the new study. “As of the 1990s, it would be difficult to find anything other than improved semi-dwarf varieties in China. Due to this and to investments in irrigation, agricultural research and extension, farmers’ wheat yields nearly doubled during 1980-95, rising from an average 1.9 to 3.5 tons per hectare.”

Results show that breeders’ use of CIMMYT germplasm has been increasing: CIMMYT contributions are present in more than 26 percent of all major wheat varieties released in China after 2000 and have added valuable diversity for important traits, including yield, protein content, disease resistance and earlier maturity.

Grassy genes help wheat to flourish

Genes found in million-year-old grass species are helping scientists to multiply the genetic diversity of wheat and to generate varieties that yield more than eight tons of grain per hectare in southwestern China, where rain-fed wheat grows in low temperatures after sowing and winter droughts can hold back productivity.

Wheat x grass crosses – known as “synthetic” wheats – were developed 25 years ago by a CIMMYT research team and have since been used in breeding programs worldwide. The first synthetic-derived variety to reach farms, Chuanmai 42, arrived in the Sichuan Basin of China in 2003 and allowed wheat farmers there to boost yields by as much as 20 percent – the most significant increase in the region for decades.

A study published in the leading journal Crop Science has shed light on the physiological differences that give Chuanmai 42 and other synthetic derivatives better yields. “In our three-year study, the synthetic crosses were more vigorous in early growth stages and had more growth above ground at flowering time than non-synthetic varieties,” said Garry Rosewarne, CIMMYT wheat scientist and corresponding author of the report. “At maturity, more dry matter was partitioned to grain in the synthetic varieties and the plants were more erect and compact.”

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