BREEDING for drought tolerance can benefit yields, according to Dr Neil Turner chief research scientist with CSIRO.
"Growers have adopted practices to maximise production in seasons limited by soil moisture, such as early planting, reducing soil disturbance, good weed control and fertilizing to promote early growth, there is still the opportunity to breed cultivars with improved drought tolerance," said Dr Turner.
Breeders employ a number of methods to introduce drought tolerance but much of the breeding work has involved the selection of species where plant development matches the distribution of rainfall.
The international centre for wheat and maize development in Mexico has crossed goat grass (Aegilops squarrosa) with durum wheat to produce a wheat that is high yielding and drought and disease resistant.
Over th past two years and a range of conditions, this wheat has demonstrated yield gains of 30pc in water limited environments.
This material is now being incorporated in Australian breeding programs.
Breeders can select for specific drought tolerant traits and the use of molecular markers and rapid selection methods is a means of speeding up this process.
Yield gains of 15pc have been associated with plants showing early vigour in a Mediterranean - type climate and further yield gains are possible where early vigour is accompanied with deeper rooting.