Milling wheat growers may eventually be able to boost grain yields without automatically sacrificing protein content.

Malcolm Hawkesford of Rothamsted Research outlined the thrust of a new Wheat Genetic Improvement Network project which began in January 2009.

The aim, building on findings from the initial 2003-2008 WGIN project, was to unravel how wheat uses nitrogen to create yield and protein.

“Nitrogen use efficiency is really complicated,” said Dr Hawkesford.

There were three main areas to be examined; the ability of roots to extract N from the soil, the method by which the crop converted that uptake into canopy and grain yield, and the way in which grain protein was formed.

“They’re all separate processes,” he said.

The new three-year £0.75m DEFRA-funded work, involving BBSRC, HGCA, CCFRA, breeders and millers was examining a wide range of varieties.

“There’s just a hint that one or two varieties are breaking the yield/protein dilution effect,” he added.