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Wheat Production in a Warming World
Ortiz, R., Sayre, K.D., Govaerts, B., Gupta, R., Subbarao, G.V., Ban, T., Hodson, D., Dixon, J.M., Ortiz-Monasterio, J.I. and Reynolds, M. 2008. Climate change: Can wheat beat the heat? Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 126: 46-58.

The authors write that "about 21% of the world's food depends on the wheat crop," that "81% of wheat consumed in the developing world is produced and utilized within the same country, if not the same community," and that "many poor households depend on increased wheat production on their own farms for improved household food security," which is becoming an ever greater concern as predictions of continued global warming grow ever more extreme.

What was done
Ortiz et al. reviewed the status of some of the approaches for addressing the oft-predicted negative impacts that climate change may have on wheat production in some of the most important wheat growing areas of the world.

What was learned
The ten international researchers report that "to adapt and mitigate the climate change effects on wheat supplies for the poor, germplasm scientists and agronomists are developing heat-tolerant wheat germplasm, as well as cultivars better adapted to conservation agriculture," noting that these encouraging results include "identifying sources of alleles for heat tolerance and their introgression into breeding populations through conventional methods and biotechnology." In addition, they report that "wheat geneticists and physiologists are also assessing wild relatives of wheat as potential sources of genes with inhibitory effects on soil nitrification," which activity could ultimately lead to significantly reduced emissions of nitrous oxide from agricultural soils and thereby shrink the impetus for global warming provided by this important trace greenhouse gas, which molecule-for-molecule is about 300 times more radiatively active than CO2.

What it means
As a result of these several activities, Ortiz et al. conclude that important technology and knowledge will flow to farmers that will enable them "to face the risks associated with climate change," suggesting that it is indeed possible for wheat to "beat the heat" in the years and decades ahead.

Reviewed 18 June 2008