UC research to help feed the world
9 October 2012
University of Canterbury researchers are helping Canterbury seed producers potentially help with the world’s growing food problem.
By 2030 there will be two billion extra mouths to feed globally with increasing middle income China and India purchasing a wider variety of foods and protein from animals.
New Zealand is a huge exporter of seeds and produces half the world’s carrot seed. The New Zealand seed industry is primarily Canterbury based with exports of about $150million a year. New Zealand is the eighth biggest exporter of vegetable seeds in the world.
Professor Paula Jameson (Biological Sciences), in collaboration with Chinese academics, is carrying out research in the hope of crop farmers being able to produce more and bigger grain.
Bread wheat makes up over 20 per cent of the world’s food supply and with increases in global population the demand for more wheat will need to be met.
Professor Jameson, head of UC’s School of Biological Sciences, and senior research fellow Dr Jiancheng Song, recently published a paper finding the wheat genes that could be prime targets for increasing grain size and grain number. This would mean higher yields of wheat for the same level of crop planting.
"The beauty of wheat is that there are so many different varieties in the world. Now we have worked out what genes are important for changing hormone levels to increase grain size and number, we can use traditional breeding techniques to find the varieties of wheat that already have this feature."
Dr Song divides his time between research work at UC and Yantai University in China. Both areas have a similar temperate climate.
Professor Jameson said the wheat work will continue in China because wheat is a main food crop there and it is easier to obtain research funding for the work but the research is also continuing at UC because the research group has been applying the knowledge to seed production.
She said New Zealand produces a huge amount of seed for the rest of the world to grow. But most research into seeds involves characteristics that are beneficial for the end user of the seed; either the farmer who plants it or the consumer.
"No one has been looking after the farmers who produce the seed for everyone else to grow. Better yield and quality of the seed will lead to a better price for the seed farmer," she said.
Professor Jameson said the research they started in wheat is carrying on at UC, which is working with Lincoln University, AgResearch, Plant and Food and seed companies in a ministry funded project researching brassica, pea and clover seeds.
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