What climate change will do to grain

22 Jun, 2015 08:07 AM
Wheat growing in high carbon dioxide conditions in Victoria.
The effect of high carbon dioxide on grains is complex
Wheat growing in high carbon dioxide conditions in Victoria.

IF the promise of higher temperatures, rising sea levels and more frequent natural disasters doesn't convince you of the urgent need for the world to act on climate change, maybe a picture will.

This is what global warming will do to your loaf of bread.

Photo: Simone Dalton

On the right is a loaf made from grain grown in today's climate conditions. On the left is a loaf made from grain that sprouted in concentrations of carbon dioxide that are expected by mid-century if greenhouse gas emissions aren't reduced significantly.

So this is 2050 bread. It was baked at the Australian Grains Free Air CO2 Enrichment facility (AgFace) in Victoria by a research group studying the effect elevated carbon dioxide will have on crops such as wheat, lentils, canola and field pea.

AgFace leader Glenn Fitzgerald said the effect of high carbon dioxide on grains is complex. On the one hand, it makes plants such as wheat and canola grow faster and produce greater yields but, on the other hand, they contain less protein. Elevated carbon dioxide also alters the ratio of different types of proteins in wheat, which, in the case of bread, effects the elasticity of dough and how well a loaf rises.

"We don't understand completely why that's the case," said Dr Fitzgerald, a senior research scientist with the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.

The group is now conducting research to see whether it can reverse the protein decline through the selection of new varieties of wheat. Grain breeders might then be able to develop new wheat strains with traits that can overcome this problem.

"It can take 10 to 15 years for a new trait to be worked into a new variety (of grain) so if we're looking ahead at 35 years, that means we can do several generations of testing. It gives us lots of time," Dr Fitzgerald said.

"There are positives, and we're trying to accentuate those," he said.

For instance, yields increase by about 25 per cent, on average, under elevated carbon dioxide.

Since pre-industrial times, carbon dioxide has risen 110 parts per million to reach 400 parts per million last year. It is expected to rise to 550ppm by 2050.

At AgFace, experimental crops are grown in the open, surrounded by thin tubes that eject carbon dioxide into the air around the plants.

"We can do this under very natural conditions, as close as you can get to an environment that crops would see in a farmer's field in the future," he said.

The project is a collaboration with the University of Melbourne and is funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

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Hilda Hereford
22/06/2015 8:57:25 AM

The basic assumption that man can control the climate irrespective of the cause of climate change is not correct. Adaption to altering climate is the only cost effective solution.
Hilda Hereford
22/06/2015 7:13:24 PM

Hate to say this but the test method looks like a bit of Agfarce! Wonder how much the bread making cost the tax payers. I suspect making loaves of bread when you consider all the other variables would make a scientific test method that is repeatable!
T Rex
24/06/2015 4:43:32 AM

Is this what passes for science these days ?
24/06/2015 10:10:41 AM

Hilda Hereford , just who is saying " that man can control the climate irrespective of the cause of climate change" .


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