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Crop Science Abstract - Beyond the Yield Curves: Exerting the Power of Genetics, Genomics, and Synthetic Biology

Breeding and Cereal Yield Progress


This article in CS

  1. Vol. 50 No. Supplement_1, p. S-85-S-98
    unlockOPEN ACCESS
    Received: Oct 2, 2009

    * Corresponding author(s): tony.fischer@csiro.au
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  1. R. A. (Tony) Fischer *a and
  2. Gregory O. Edmeadesb
  1. a CSIRO Plant Industry, ACT, Australia
    b 43 Hemans St., Cambridge 3432, New Zealand


This paper reviews recent progress in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), rice (Oryza sativa L.), and maize (Zea mays L.) yields resulting from substantial breeding efforts in mostly favorable environments and examines its physiological basis. Breeding and improved agronomy lift potential yield (PY), namely yield with the best variety and management in the absence of manageable abiotic and biotic stresses, and PY increase is a key component of progress in farm yield (FY), the other component being closure of the PY to FY gap. Changes in PY and FY are reviewed for several key production regions, namely the United Kingdom and the Yaqui Valley of Mexico for wheat, Japan and Central Luzon in the Philippines for rice, and Iowa and briefly sub-Saharan Africa for maize. The PY growth rates have fallen and are currently generally no more than 1% per annum and usually much less. The trajectory of FY with time often closely parallels PY, but, especially in developing countries, there remain large yield gaps. In at least one instance (maize in Iowa) the gap between PY and FY appears to be closing rapidly. Current genetic progress is linked to increased biomass accumulation, and this will remain the way forward in the future given the limits to increased harvest index (HI). There is evidence that recent progress is related to increased photosynthesis (e.g., greater radiation use efficiency (RUE) at the canopy level and/or maximum photosynthetic rate Pmax at saturating irradiance at the leaf level) before and around anthesis. There is no theoretical reason why this trend cannot continue, especially given the vast genetic resources already found within each crop species. However, it will not be easily or cheaply accomplished, so prospects for higher rates of potential yield growth appear to be limited, notwithstanding new molecular tools and claims to the contrary. Closing the yield gap, therefore, becomes more important. Many factors are involved, but breeding can also help farmers achieve this through, for example, improved host plant resistance.

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