India Breeds New Types of Wheat

In today’s Wall Street Journal.

Positive Tests Raise Hopes Of Making Quantum Jump In Boosting Crop Output

NEW DELHI — Twelve years of painstaking research in India to develop new types of wheat with significantly higher yields has thrown up many positive results, raising hopes for the next quantum jump in production, a senior scientist says.

The success of the strategic project is crucial to maintain long-term self-sufficiency in the staple commodity in the wake of India’s burgeoning population.

India’s wheat production seems to have saturated between 72 million and 75 million metric tons (79 million and 83 million short tons), forcing India to import in 2006 for the first time in six years.

“Data are still being collated on our research, but I can say we have overcome some of the major scientific barriers witnessed previously in developing New Plant Type, or NPT, wheat,” said S.S. Singh, principal scientist at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, India’s premier government-run farm-research body.

Mr. Singh said that if further tests and multilocational trials are successful, the new types of wheat could give yields of eight or nine tons a hectare a year. India’s current average yield is only 2.64 tons a hectare a year, although irrigated areas of Punjab and Haryana yield as much as six tons a hectare.

“The only approach for achieving a quantum jump in productivity is to restructure the architecture of a wheat plant, which we have tried to do by trying different combinations of genotypes,” he said.

There are three main criteria for improving wheat yields, he said. These are the number of tillers or spikes per unit area, the number of grains per spike and the weight in grams per 1,000 grains.

Research tests have led to the successful development of NPT wheat with the number of grains per spike between 80 and 90, up from the usual 55 to 60, he said. The weight of grains also rose to 42 to 45 grams per 1,000 grains, from the usual 38 grams.

“However, the number of tillers or spikes per unit area were lower than required. Now we are close to addressing this problem as well,” he said.

If the latest results meet required scientific parameters, the new wheat types would be tested at several locations across the country under different climatic conditions. After their climatic adaptability is established, they would be released for commercial cultivation.

“India will need 109 million tons of wheat each year to feed 1.3 billion people by 2020, against the current output of only 73 million tons. This project, if successful, can help meet all our needs,” Mr. Singh said.


April 17, 2006; Page C4

Copyrights Wall Street Journal