Enhanced Superwheat Could Raise Crop Yields
May 13, 2013

New Superwheat Could Increase Crop Yields By 30 Percent

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

UK scientists have reportedly developed an enhanced type of wheat which could produce as much as 30 percent more than conventional varieties of the widely-consumed cereal grain.

Researchers at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in Cambridge developed the so-called “superwheat” by combining an ancient ancestor of wheat with a modern version, according to BBC News reports published Saturday.

Early field trials of the new synthetic wheat strain revealed that it was 30 percent more productive than conventional variety of the grain, Daily Mail reporter Nick McDermott said. Testing and the regulatory process will take as much as five years, but the product could be available to farmers as early as 2019.

“The process of producing the synthetic 'superwheat' is similar to selective breeding and does not use genetic-modification,” McDermott explained. “It could also spell good news for the consumer, with increased production promising to keep down prices for bread, biscuits and pasta.”

The scientific advance comes at a time when England is about to become a net importer of wheat for the first time in more than a decade — a result of last year´s harsh weather, according to the Daily Mail. Local agricultural experts expect that the trend will continue in 2014 because of seed shortages and difficulties with planting.

NIAB Director and Chief Executive Dr. Tina Barsby told McDermott that most modern wheat evolved from goat grass and other primitive grains, and that the combination most likely took place 10,000 years ago in the Middle East. She and her colleagues took early wheat and grass varieties from seed banks, then cross-bred them to maximize effectiveness.

Dr. Barsby told the Daily Mail that she was “very optimistic” about the crop´s potential, although she admitted that the project was still in the early stages. No genetic modification technology was involved, she said. Rather, the NIAB´s research focused on “finding novel characteristics from the original ancestors of wheat and breeding them to make them as productive and resilient as possible.”

“The trials show up to 30 per cent yield increase, which is truly fantastic,” National Farmers' Union (NFU) President Peter Kendall told McDermott. “It is particularly good news, as we had to import wheat following last year's record wet weather and it will be a similar picture this year with a poor harvest expected“¦ This is about increasing resilience and making ourselves self-reliant. We want to be able to feed ourselves and the rest of the world.”