Australian crop industries must adapt to the future

11 June 2014

The levels of Co2 forecast for 2050 has been shown to deplete the nutritional quality of major food crops, an international research team featuring academics from the University of Melbourne has determined.

University of Melbourne environmental sciences
Australian crop industries must adapt to the future

The study—published recently in the journal Nature—found elevated carbon dioxide was associated with lower concentrations of zinc and iron in wheat, rice and legume crops, and lower protein concentrations in wheat and rice crops.
The research was based on data from six crop varieties in 40 growing clusters across three continents, including Horsham, Victoria.
The crops were cultivated in free air carbon dioxide enrichment (FACE) environments, which allow plants to be grown in open fields at the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels expected in 2050.
The results have significant implications for global health, as these food crops are the staple diet of a large proportion of the global population.
With dietary deficiencies of zinc and iron currently affecting about two billion people, reduced dietary access to these nutrients represents a very significant global health threat.
University of Melbourne researcher Professor Michael Tausz, said the Harvard University-led study indicates Australian crop industries must adapt to the future.
“If we are planning on breeding new crop varieties, or adopting new technologies or practices in food production to counter these drawbacks, then thirty-five years is not a very long time,” he said.
“What it means is that any new strategy in crop production to respond to these challenges, be it in plant breeding or agronomic management, must already be evaluated for its efficiency under the future high carbon dioxide atmosphere, where it actually has to perform.”
The Australian Grains FACE (AGFACE) program is run by the University of Melbourne and the Department of Environment and Primary Industries Victoria, with support from the Department of Agriculture and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.
PICCC Director Associate Professor Richard Eckard says that although modelling has shown the impacts of climate change on agricultural production will be large, there are still a range of adaptation options that the industry can pursue.
“With adaptations we can capture the benefits and minimise the potential negative effects,” he said. “The net effect of well-directed adaptation would be an increase in agricultural productivity by 2050.”

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University of Melbourne School of Land and Environment’s vision is to lead and build passion and excellence to solve society’s major challenges of sustainable land, food and environment.
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By improving the use of scarce resources for production and distribution of food and fibre, Department of Agriculture and Food Systems researchers are working towards a sustainable farming future. Global food security is the greatest challenge of the next century, and it is essential that the agricultural industry is supported with innovative research, advanced technology and societal adjustments to make this possible.
University of Melbourne environmental science academics are experts in plant molecular biology and biotechnology, animal science and production, soil and plant nutrition, food science and biotechnology, efficient use of water for irrigation and in dairies, innovative and environmentally sustainable agricultural, horticultural and viticultural production systems and agribusiness processes. Programs available in this area include

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