Research underway to drought-proof crops

BRITISH scientists are investigating ways to protect crops from damage caused by drought.

Researchers from Harper Adams University College in Shropshire are using special compounds which reduce water loss.

Plants lose water from their leaves and if this is more than what is available in the soil, growth is reduced.

Antitranspirants decrease this water loss by acting as ‘waterproofing’.

This technique is commonly used on Christmas trees, to reduce water loss and needle drop, but is not so commonly used in crop protection.

Research co-ordinator, Professor Peter Kettlewell, said: “Research into antitranspirants first began in the 1960s, but the findings show that although they can help crops to grow in drought conditions, they also restrict the intake of CO2 and in turn, reduce photosynthesis.

“Here at Harper Adams we have looked at these methods and found that prior to wheat crops entering the flowering stage, water shortage has a major effect on the yield.

“So if antitranspirants, which wear off after a few weeks, are sprayed onto crops at this point, the reduction in photosynthesis matters less and water is saved at the most critical time.”

Scientists will eventually look at how these findings can be transferred to other crops such as maize.

Although the research has been conducted in the UK, it is hoped the results will be applicable in drier crop-producing countries such as Australia, America and the Mediterranean.

If implemented there, antitranspirants could help farmers to protect their yields and combat the effects of climate change.

Professor Kettlewell added: “The compounds are expensive, and although the benefits in yields can outweigh those costs, we need to find cheaper materials to encourage farmers to consider using them.”

“As seen in America at the moment, crop damage can lead to the prospect of sharp increases in food prices, so research like this could prove key to managing a potential global food crisis.”O

Readers' comments (1)

  • I'd be interested to know the compounds used and any potential negative consequences/impacts?

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