Seed World

Australian Researchers Develop High-Protein Wheat

Researchers at Murdoch University have made a major breakthrough in improving the quality and profitability of Australia’s $6 billion wheat crops. The team has increased the protein content of wheat to more than 14 percent in a new high-yielding variety, allowing farmers to command premium prices for superior crops on the global market.

This latest breakthrough provides Australia’s farmers with a stronger competitive edge against countries which have been delivering wheat with higher protein content to some of Australia’s key customers.

Ian Edwards is chief executive officer at Edstar Genetics, the independent wheat and barley breeding company that developed the new wheat variety. The adjunct professor leads the wheat research project at the Western Australian State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (SABC) at Murdoch’s Perth campus.

“The wheat market is worth more than $6 billion to the Australian economy,” Edwards explains. “Increasing the protein yield of Australian crops will increase the revenue that Australia receives for its wheat, making our growers more competitive.

“We are now producing higher-yield wheat which can be grown in poor quality soils with lower production costs.”

Edwards has 50 years’ of experience in his field, having participated in the development and commercial release of 53 new wheat varieties on four continents.

The challenge facing researchers was how to create a variety of high-protein wheat which uses available soil nitrogen more efficiently, and could be grown in Australia’s less fertile, sandy soils.

Poor growing conditions and light-textured soils lead to a lower protein yield, or grain protein content (GPC). To compensate, farmers add nitrogen fertilizer to wheat crops, which helps increase GPC but also increases production costs.

Edwards and his team of researchers have worked for nine years to develop a wheat variety with more than 14 percent GPC, requiring less nitrogen fertilizer per unit of grain protein.

This combination of less fertilizer and higher GPC will help lower production costs and deliver higher profits for growers in some of Australia’s toughest regions.

The new wheat variety, which they’ve named Tungsten, has been tested in National Variety Trials and is now ready for full commercialization in 2017.

Thanks to a higher GPC, the wheat is also better for bread baking. This is a critical factor when foreign buyers are selecting the highest quality of wheat available for import.