Plans to use RL trials to study effects of drought

Rothamsted Research is hoping to use this year’s Recommended List trials to study how the latest varieties cope with drought, said Eric Ober, drought tolerance research group leader.

Because some of this year’s HGCA trials were in particularly dry areas it would be an ideal opportunity to monitor how current varieties had coped, he said. “We’d like to take advantage of this year’s data. Because some have obviously been drought-stressed there could be valuable information to analyse.”

The original two-year DEFRA Link-funded project finished in 2009, and most of the varieties tested were no longer on the List, he said. “Also 2009 was the only year where the crops were subjected to enough drought stress to test.”

Combining information from this year’s HGCA trials would help reinforce the 2009 findings, he noted. “It would allow us to get more information without having to carry out more expensive trials.

Simon Oxley, Recommended List manager, said he hoped drought tolerance could be monitored during the Recommended List trials site validation visits which were about to commence. “We go around all of the trials sites to see if they all meet our protocols. Given the drought we may not be able to use some of them for the Recommended List, but they still provide valuable data for other research such as Eric’s drought tolerance work.”

Varieties’ drought tolerance would be rated using Dr Ober’s 1 to 4 grading system and Dr Oxley was also hoping to gain more accurate weather data to give a better idea of the extent of the drought on each site.

The 2007-09 Link-funded project identified several traits which tended to improve crops’ ability to survive drought, said Dr Ober.

Varieties with waxier leaves tended to lose less moisture and were generally better when moisture was limited. “High stem carbohydrate is also a good characteristic as it generally means plants hold onto tillers for longer.”

But, in some cases, these traits could reduce yield potential to a greater extent than the benefits of drought tolerance, he explained. “Combining high yield potential and yield stability is a challenge and there will always be a trade-off.”

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