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Temperatures Rising in Wheat Fields? There's a Cultivar for That!
Marinciu, C., Mustatea, P., Serban, G., Ittu, G. and Sauleseu, N.N. 2013. Effects of climate change and genetic progress on performance of wheat cultivars, during the last twenty years in south Romania. Romanian Agricultural Research, No. 30, Online ISSN 2067-5720.

In response to rising temperatures of the past and concerns about the possibility of additional warming in the future, many crops are being studied to identify which of their known cultivars might be predisposed to overcome the thermal stresses that could confront them under such conditions. And as an example of what these studies are learning, we present below a brief description of the findings of one such study that pertains to wheat.

What was done
Noting that "during the last two decades (1991-2012), a significant increase in temperature both during vegetative growth and grain filling was observed," Marinciu et al. documented the yearly yield responses of a long-time standard wheat cultivar grown in South Romania (Bezostaya 1) and a number of more recently-released wheat cultivars.

What was learned
In the words of the five researchers, "yields of the historical wheat control showed a reduction trend, which averaged -32 kg/ha/year, while the average yield of the most recently released cultivars showed an increasing trend of +40 kg/hectare/year."

What it means
Once again quoting Marinciu et al., "genetic progress reflected in the release of the new wheat cultivars was able to counteract the negative effect of climate change seen on the yield of the historical control cultivar." In fact, as their data showed, the improvement in the new cultivars was so great that it turned crop yield decreases into increases, as they report that "the yield difference between the most recently released cultivars and the historical check showed a significant increasing trend of 69 kg/hectare/year." Thus, there is good reason to believe that further crop breeding to cope with warming, as well as with other potential environmental changes - such as increases or decreases in precipitation and continued increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration - may help boost crop yields even more.

Reviewed 28 May 2014