Weatherwatch: scientists develop 'speed breeding' to feed rising population

Researchers are developing a system to enable six harvests a year of staple food crops that can survive climate change

Scientists are engaged in a race against time to breed staple crops that can both survive climate change and yield bigger harvests. Their aim is to feed a growing population in a warming world.

The method used for centuries of growing one crop a year in variable weather conditions and then selecting the seeds from the best plants is no longer viable in fast-changing climatic conditions. Scientists are concerned that for some years there have been few improvements in yields of grain.

A new system called speed breeding, designed to grow six crops a year, has been developed in glasshouses to accelerate the process. Using LED lighting to aid photosynthesis, intensive regimes allow the plants to grow for 22 hours a day. This new form of lighting is a lot cheaper and also more efficient than using the old sodium vapour lamps that produced too much heat and not enough light.

Among the crops that can now be grown up to six generations a year are wheat, barley, peas and chickpeas. Canola, a form of rapeseed, can achieve four cycles.

Using this technology, scientists can study the way plants deal with diseases, and their shape and structure and flowering time, and the growing cycle can be repeated every eight weeks.

It is hoped the technique will yield new varieties of crops that can be grown on a commercial scale within 10 years. If this could be achieved, it would increase productivity in the same way as the green revolution of the 1960s, when new crop varieties, modern farm practices, and use of fertilisers saved millions of people from starvation.

Contributor

Paul Brown

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Weatherwatch: pollution can make clouds drier
New findings contrast with some climate models that indicate aerosols make clouds ‘wetter’

Kate Ravilious

28, May, 2018 @8:30 PM

Article image
Weatherwatch: fashion shines a light on climate change
From light clothes in medieval times to fur in the 1500s, fashion reveals how climate has changed

Jeremy Plester

19, Feb, 2018 @9:00 PM

Article image
Weatherwatch: Charles Keeling's CO2 curve shows drastic rise in 60 years
Scientist’s measurements begun 60 years ago show relentless rise of CO2 in the atmosphere

Jeremy Plester

03, Sep, 2018 @8:30 PM

Article image
Weatherwatch: climate change will bring more floods. Can we predict them?
Floods are increasingly likely because of the combination of climate change and our growing habit of paving over green spaces

Paul Brown

03, Oct, 2018 @8:30 PM

Article image
A bright sun today? It's down to the atmosphere
Weatherwatch Solar brightening and dimming effects around the globe are likely to be related to airborne pollutant levels say scientists

David Hambling

21, Mar, 2017 @9:30 PM

Article image
Weatherwatch: sedum roofs doing well in heatwave
Sedum roofs can be afflicted by weeds in wet weather, but only buddleia can survive heatwave

Paul Brown

09, Jul, 2018 @8:30 PM

Article image
The ifs and buts of long-term weather forecasting
Weatherwatch: Predicting the weather more than 30 days ahead is fraught with difficulty. But that doesn’t stop meteorologists trying

Paul Brown

31, Oct, 2016 @9:30 PM

Article image
Who is wilt-free? Farmers with organic-rich, water-holding soils, that's who
Weatherwatch As climate change alters rainfall, UK farms with heavily irrigated crops on chemically fed soils may learn from organic growers

Paul Brown

06, Jun, 2017 @8:30 PM

Article image
Weatherwatch: La Niña strikes out on its forceful voyage round the globe
Unusually cold patches of the Pacific ocean are again on the move, threatening to disrupt weather patterns worldwide

Jeremy Plester

16, Nov, 2017 @9:30 PM

Article image
Weatherwatch: thousands in lockdown rescue rainfall records
Climate scientists asked for volunteers to transcribe millions of UK rainfall measurements from 1820 to 1950. And they volunteered in their thousands!

Kate Ravilious

24, Apr, 2020 @8:30 PM