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Sino-NZ study aims to produce bigger grains

By RJ Whitehead , 09-Oct-2012

In another agricultural research collaboration between New Zealand and China, scientists have begun a joint study into how to improve seeds so that farmers can produce more and bigger grains.

The joint effort by Canterbury University’s Prof. Paula Jameson and senior research fellow Dr Jiancheng Song of Yantai University in Shandong Province, will target ways that to increase grain production as a means to enhance food security.

Having already published a paper that found that wheat genes could be pivotal for increasing grain size and numbers, the scientists now intend to look at ways to apply this research in practice.

“The beauty of wheat is that there are so many different varieties in the world. Now we have worked out what genes are important for changing hormone levels to increase grain size and number, we can use traditional breeding techniques to find the varieties of wheat that already have this feature,” said Jameson.

Regional parallels 

Both Canterbury and Shandong have similar temperate climates, allowing the wheat work to continue in China, where it was easier to obtain research funding for the work, she said.

Research would also continue in Canterbury, where the research group has been applying its knowledge to seed production.

New Zealand is the world’s eighth biggest exporter of vegetable seeds, with its seed industry primarily based in the Canterbury region, which surrounds the South Island city of Christchurch, with exports of around NZ$150m a year.

Jameson remarked that New Zealand produces a huge amount of seed for the rest of the world to grow, but most research into the field involves characteristics that are beneficial mostly for the end-user.

Looking out for the farmers

"No one has been looking after the farmers who produce the seed for everyone else to grow. Better yield and quality of the seed will lead to a better price for the seed farmer," she said.

Last week, FoodNavigator-Asia reported on a new research programme co-funded by the New Zealand government and a Chinese-owned seed company. 

The NZ$14.6m Seed and Nutritional Technology Development programme will be led by PGG Wrightson Seeds and aims to improve seed and plant species for farmers, increase animal productivity and minimise environmental impact.

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