U.K. Researchers Start Plan to Double Wheat Yields in 20 Years

U.K. plant researchers started a program to more than double the potential wheat yields in the country, the European Union’s third-biggest grower of the grain, to 20 metric tons per hectare (2.47 acres) within two decades.

The work by Rothamsted Research, founded as an agricultural-research station in 1843, will be funded by the government-financed Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the council wrote in an online statement dated June 13. U.K. farmers on average harvest 9 tons of wheat per hectare, while the average global yield is 3 tons, it said.

Rothamsted has faced protests for testing wheat genetically modified to repel aphids, a grain pest. An intruder broke into the researcher’s facilities on May 20 and caused property damage in an attempt to disrupt the experiment, the researcher reported last month.

“Wheat is the world’s number one staple crop and has not benefited from the attention afforded to corn and soybeans in recent years,” Martin Parry, a professor who heads the so-called 20:20 Wheat program, was cited as saying.

Every ton-per-hectare yield increase for wheat is estimated to create 318 million pounds ($494 million) in value for U.K. farmers at the farm gate level, the council said.

The program will seek to boost wheat yields through genetic improvement, more efficient photosynthesis and use of nutrients, as well as changes to the wheat plant’s canopy and root structure, according to the statement.

Wheat provides about a fifth of human calories, according to the council. The rate of growth in wheat yields has declined since 1980, it said.

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