PULLMAN, Wash. – Stephen Jones, a Washington State University wheat breeder, will partner in a multi-nation, $9-million grant from the European Commission Research Directorate-General on a research project designed to improve the production efficiency of food, feed and biofuel crops.
“If we put 100 pounds of nitrogen on wheat, we are lucky if 50 pounds ends up in the grain,” Jones said.
He believes that a five- to 10-percent improvement in production efficiency of wheat is feasible. “We know there is variation for these traits already,” he said. “It takes finding that variation and capturing that variation in our improved varieties.”
Jones said the grant was written from an environmental and economic perspective. In Europe, which has significant rainfall, runoff and leaching of nutrients and farm chemicals into surface and groundwater are a concern.
“It is so dry here,” he said, “even if our nitrogen isn’t used by a crop at least some of it will get used eventually.”
The chief incentive for improvement of production efficiency here is economic. “Over the past few years, the price of anhydrous ammonia has skyrocketed.”
Jones will to test for variation in nitrogen uptake in different types and varieties of wheat grown in organic and conventional farming systems.
“Reducing off-farm inputs is just as important to organic growers as conventional growers,” Jones said. “If they don’t have a lot of animals, it is expensive for organic growers to get enough fertilizer without trucking in manure or compost. Their transportation costs are prohibitive.”
Part of the funding Jones will receive will support an exchange of graduate students. Students from Europe will spend up to a year in Jones’ program and his own doctoral students will spend time on a university farm in Scotland.
The other participants in the project work at universities and private companies in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Bulgaria, Germany, Switzerland, and China.
Jones is the only U.S. participant. The principal investigator is at the University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom.