New technology will increase yield sustainably


16-06-2014

New technologies in breeding, monitoring and decision-making have the potential to increase crop yields sustainably by 5% - 20%, according to speakers at a technical seminar hosted by Agri-Tech East at Cereals 2014 last week.

Seminar speaker, Dr Cristobal Uauy, wheat geneticist at the John Innes Centre (JIC) and National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) says that the international instability created by rising wheat prices has made the issue of how to “feed the world” front page news, which has attracted the attention of young people.

“For years the price of grain was steady and then rapid increases in 2010 created widespread social unrest. This urgency coupled with advances in sequencing technology – which offer the potential to rapidly improve productivity – has made working with crops much more interesting to young scientists. 

“Technology developments have opened up our imagination to new and more exciting experiments. We are now able to do things that were unthinkable just a few years ago. For example, breeders have traditionally been limited to selecting varieties based on what they can see in the field. We are now able to work with them to generate tools, such as DNA marker assisted selection, that give a more precise indication of the underlying reason for the variation. 

“Although the differences are barely perceptible, over an entire field these changes can increase yield by roughly 5%, the equivalent of 700 loaves of bread per hectare.”Plant breeder Peter Werner of KWS UK also speaking, is excited by the technological advances: “Increasing grain width and grain length are two small components of the yield.

However, improving small components is what breeders do, so this work at JIC and NIAB is an essential part of the underpinning support for UK and European wheat breeding.  “The breeding industry does and will use this knowledge in an incremental way to more quickly improve yield.”

Dr Uauy continues; “farmers have a major role to play here as well.  The success of the varieties is determined not just by genetics but also the on-farm conditions, environment, soil, and agricultural practices.  

“By recording these metrics in the field, together with yields we can begin to build the information base required to significantly improve productivity.”

Recording is creating opportunities for new types of monitors, sensors and mobile apps to process the data. Peter Lee, senior lawyer with Taylor Vinters, says that the market for agricultural drones is predicted to be worth $30bn over the next decade with applications in precision farming, monitoring and land-use inspection. 

Norfolk company HexCam provides aerial photography for trials and sees opportunities to use imaging technology to provide enhanced information. 

Speaker Dr Lynn Dicks, of the University of Cambridge agrees:  “To achieve sustainable intensification within a real farm environment, farmers and agronomists need access to meaningful metrics and to be able to track these to understand the cause and effect of different management strategies. 

“We are seeing the emergence of a number of on-farm decision-making tools to facilitate this, but it is vital to involve the end users from the start. Cereals is a good opportunity to gain input from all sectors of the industry.”Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East, will be chairing the seminar at Cereals and she is looking forward to a stimulating discussion:

“At Agri-Tech East we are bringing together farmers and growers with scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs to understand the challenges and work together to create a global innovation hub in agri-tech, which will offer significant economic benefits to the region.”

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Agri-TechE is a business focused membership organisation, supporting the growth of a world-leading network of innovative farmers, producers, scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs who share a vision of increasing the productivity, profitability and sustainability of agriculture.
Together we aim to help turn challenges into business opportunities and facilitate mutually beneficial collaboration.

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