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New Zealand, Chinese scientists look to improve grain yields with seed development

(Xinhua)

10:50, October 11, 2012

WELLINGTON, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand and Chinese scientists have begun a joint study into how to improve seeds so that farmers can produce more and bigger grains to help feed the world's growing population.

University of Canterbury Professor Paula Jameson and senior research fellow Dr. Jiancheng Song, of Yantai University, in east China's Shandong Province, had published a paper finding the wheat genes that could be prime targets for increasing grain size and grain number, said a statement from the University of Canterbury on Tuesday.

"The beauty of wheat is that there are so many different varieties in the world. Now we have worked out what genes are important for changing hormone levels to increase grain size and number, we can use traditional breeding techniques to find the varieties of wheat that already have this feature," Jameson said in the statement.

Both Canterbury and Shandong had similar temperate climates, which would allow the wheat work to continue in China, where wheat was a main food crop and it was easier to obtain research funding for the work, she said.

Research would also continue at the University of Canterbury because the research group had been applying the knowledge to seed production.

New Zealand was the eighth biggest exporter of vegetable seeds in the world, and the New Zealand seed industry was primarily based in the Canterbury region with exports of about 150 million NZ dollars (123.18 million U.S. dollars) a year.

By 2030, the world would have an estimated 2 billion extra mouths to feed.

Bread wheat made up over 20 percent of the world's food supply and with increases in global population the demand for more wheat would need to be met.

Jameson said New Zealand produced a huge amount of seed for the rest of the world to grow, but most research into seeds involved characteristics that were beneficial for the end user of the seed, either the farmer who planted it or the consumer.

"No one has been looking after the farmers who produce the seed for everyone else to grow. Better yield and quality of the seed will lead to a better price for the seed farmer," she said.

Last week, the New Zealand government announced it would fund a project led by Chinese-owned agribusiness PGG Wrightson to improve seed and plant species for farmers, and to improve animal productivity and minimize environmental impacts.

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