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Apr 20

Water use efficiency research yields positive results

Posted on Apr 20 By: Tyler Difley

Br. Anthony Anyia and his technologist, Ryan Melnichuk, study barley test plots in 2009. Credit: University of Alberta
Since 2006, Alberta Research Council Crop Scientist Anthony Anyia and University of Alberta Soil Science Professor Scott Chang have worked on a research project that could yield very positive results for barley growers, both in Alberta and around the world.

Their research aims to find ways to make barley drought resistant and more efficient in its water use, without reducing yield performance. This would eventually provide farmers with stable barley varieties that use less water and are better equipped to handle climate change.
“The overall objective of the project is to identify genotypes that are highly water use efficient, and able to perform reasonably well in really dry conditions and environments where crops may be experiencing a drought,” said Chang.

Through their work, Anyia and Chang were able to analyze barley’s genetic makeup and identify regions in the chromosomes that are responsible for controlling water use efficiency. How- ever, much work still needs to be done before the pair’s findings can be put into practice by breeding programs.

“Those chromosomes are still very large regions, so we could still further identify the genes that control the water use efficiency,” said Chang. He added that the selection technique they are developing needs to be tested on a much larger sample size of barley genotypes before it could be applied to breeding. Anyia agreed.

“At this point, before breeders can confidently take it and make it a routine, we need more testing and validation,” he said. “For it to truly become a useful tool for them, you need to take it through some additional field trials.”

Anyia expects that additional trials and testing will be done in partnership with the barley breeders at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Lacombe Re- search Centre in the near future.

When asked how soon we could be seeing their work incorporated into new water use efficient barley varieties, Anyia was cautiously optimistic. Although breeding new varieties often takes at least a decade, Anyia said that breeders already have many of the tools necessary to screen existing advanced lines and incorporate water use efficiency into varieties currently being released.

“We believe that some varieties that have already been developed, if you screen them, you will be able to select the ones that have better water use efficiency,” said Anyia. “As a result of that developed water use efficiency, they tend to have more stability in their yield.”

Still, further mapping of the chromosomes to determine the genetic markers responsible for water use efficiency is necessary before the technique can be widely applied.

“If the breeders are going to be using this right now without getting the markers, they would probably be able to use it with only a few varieties,” said Anyia.

Anyia emphasized the importance of developing water use efficient barley varieties, given the rate at which climate change is occurring and the volatility of weather on the prairies.

“Climate change is happening, and if you live on the prairies you know it varies from year to year,” he said. “Of course, it’s not consistently dry, so it gets a little bit tricky to get a breeder or producers to actually see the true value of having their varieties fully tested and guaranteed for water use efficiency.

“We need to be proactive about it instead of being reactive,” concluded Anyia. “We should always keep in mind that the dry years are also not far away.”

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