SLU news

Old wheat varieties can solve contemporary problems

Published: 11 June 2015

Agriculture will have to produce more food but with less environmental impact. Old wheat varieties can help us to reach that goal. Researchers at SLU and Isfahan University of Technology in Iran have shown that the old varieties used nitrogen more efficiently than the modern ones. The results can be used in the breeding of new varieties.

Modern wheat varieties give good harvests if they get a lot of nutrients, while the old varieties are expected to be better suited to environments with low resource availability. So says the theory, but if we are going to use the old varieties in breeding it is important to examine their properties systematically.

Fereshteh Pourazari, Martin Weih and Giulia Vico at the Department of Crop Production Ecology and Parviz Ehsanzadeh Isfahan University of Technology in Iran conducted a field trial in which they studied how effectively modern and ancient wheat varieties utilized nitrogen. It was the Middle East that humans began to grow wheat once upon a time.

- The old varieties we looked at are still growing wild in the mountains but they are also used by farmers in areas with a thin layer of soil where there is a shortage of both nutrients and water, said Fereshteh Pourazari.

The two modern wheat varieties (Granary and Quarna) and the ancient varieties were cultivated in growth containers in Sweden and in the field in Iran. The yields were higher from the modern varieties irrespective of the availability of nutrients.

- However, we saw, as expected, that the old varieties were better able to accumulate nitrogen as the supply of nutrients was small, said Fereshteh Pourazari.

It shows that the old varieties have interesting characteristics that can be used to cultivate new varieties. These could be used in areas where the soil is nutrient poor. In Sweden they could reduce the need for fertilizers and thereby the nitrogen leaching

Fereshteh Pourazari would like to look more at differences in the root systems.
- As the old varieties can use nitrogen more efficiently, there may be differences in how the roots are established.