Scientist calls for agriculture research funding

Image: Wheat Heads,

A leading US scientist, pioneering in climate change studies examining the impact it will have on grain crops, has urged Australian Governments to fund research and development in the country.

Image: Wheat Heads,
Image: Wheat Heads,

Dr Bruce Kimball, whose visit in Australia coincided with the release of the Federal Budget, has questioned the Government’s decision to cut $200 million in funding over four years for the CSIRO and Co-Operative Research Centres.

“It certainly benefits everybody to have this research funded, so governments ought to be doing it, I think. Here I understand a lot of [research] is being done by commodity groups and that’s very good,” he said.

“One place we might have gone to have gotten funding, and I’m quite sure we could have, would have been the oil industry and that is a real conflict of interest and we did not want to go there for the funding.”

According to the article on ABC, Dr Kimball’s was one of the first scientists who had studied the impact of increased carbon dioxide on grain crops. Similar studies are being conducted in Horsham, Western Victoria, where scientists confirmed that the rapid accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can significantly boost yields and bring major improvements in agricultural productivity.

However, a Harvard University-led study featuring academics from the University of Melbourne, has found that elevated carbon dioxide levels are associated with lower concentrations of zinc and iron in wheat, rice and legume crops, and lower protein concentrations in wheat and rice crops.

Dr Glenn Fitzgerald, from the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries, says high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affects the quality of crops.

“We are looking at the impact on noodle quality and bread making quality. Because the protein contents go down and we are finding the protein composition changes, in other words the kinds of proteins in the grain are changing as well,” he said.

“That has a negative impact on bread quality and noodle colour, which is very important for other types of markets like in Asia. So there are impacts on quality parameters that are important to Australian producers.”

Dr Fitzgerald says the research highlights the need for further studies into new crop varieties.

“What we are now looking at is what we can do about it, can we breed new lines of wheat that can overcome these reductions that we see and then bring back the quality that we need in order to meet those market demands,” he said.

“That’s the next avenue of research looking at what can we do about it, how can we adapt through management and through genetic breeding programs.”