Building drought resistance into crops is under intensive research

Developing cropping seed varieties to combat extreme drought conditions is part of a collaborative project now well underway

Growers in marginal cropping regions copping the brunt of drought conditions in winter season 2023-24 will have the most to gain from a wider approach from research into drought resistance crops

If a wider approach to research is effective, it could result in improving drought adaptation in crops where growers in marginal regions will be saved from current seasonal seesaw calamities. 

More focus on integrating research into drought tolerance in crops is essential to prevent the threat to global food security, according to international researchers who intend to do something about this looming issue.

The team from the Institute for Research and Development (IRD), the International Rice Research Institute, the French National Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and The University of Queensland said research efforts too often focused on extreme drought.

Developing more drought resistant crop varieties for local growers is at the heart of UQ’s Associate Professor Karine Chenu’s research work

Associate Professor Karine Chenu from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation said improving drought adaptation is a problem too complex for a one-size-fits-all approach.  

Dr Chenu explains, “What we need is people with different expertise working together to find answers through a holistic approach across different disciplines.

“There are many different types of droughts and many complex physiological traits involved. For instance, a trait conferring drought adaptation may be ideal in some crop environments, but in others, it could be detrimental to yield,” Dr Chenu adds.

Principal Scientist Dr Vincent Vadez from the Institute for Research and Development (IRD) working here on a sorghum crop is applying his vast knowledge to develop more drought resistant crops

The IRD’s Principal Scientist Dr Vincent Vadez agrees, “A drought tolerance trait is not a magic bullet that can solve drought in all situations. Certain traits can be useful in some drought scenarios, but these same traits can have negative trade-offs in other scenarios.

“A more integrated approach will allow access to different tools – physiologists bring the understanding of the traits that could be harnessed as a solution to specific scenarios, modellers can predict the value of the traits across various scenarios, geneticists bring the capacity to harness traits of interest and breeders can insert those traits into cultivars.

“Despite what each of these domains brings, none can solve the issue alone – the solution will come from the synergy of all these different elements. Worldwide there is a lot of expertise in these different areas, but these teams need to be better assembled,” Dr Vincent Vadez adds.

If the current round of research develops cropping strains that are more resistant to drought the marginal cropping regions in northern parts of Australia will benefit most

Dr Chenu explains further, “It was important to select the right traits for the right environments. Then we can develop helpful phenotyping methods, screen hundreds or thousands of genotypes to identify genomic regions of interest and find potential parents for breeding traits of interest.

“In addition, crop models can now directly be used in association with the genomic models, and we work with breeders to have integrated biophysical knowledge of the traits, the environment, the agronomic management practices and the genome all at once.

“The idea is to integrate as much knowledge as we can to get predictions as good as possible of which genotypes will perform best in the environments we target,” Dr Chenu concluded.