The Ogallala aquifer is a shallow water table aquifer located beneath the Great Plains covering an area of approximately 450,000 km2, spread across eight states and is the major source of irrigation and urban needs. However, extensive pumping for irrigation has accelerated depletion of the groundwater, reducing its sustainability under predicted drier conditions in the future. Among the eight states supported by Ogallala aquifer, Kansas ranks first in total area under wheat production in the US. Among 8,500,000 acres of wheat planted in Kansas, 7,960,000 acres are planted under non-irrigated conditions while 540,000 acres under irrigated conditions. Hence, 93.7% of Kansas wheat production lies under extreme vulnerability to water-deficit and heat stress. Although extensive efforts are currently ongoing by both public and private organizations to improve wheat productivity under challenging environments, there has been very limited progress in improving the rooting biology due to extreme complexity and difficulty in phenotyping. Hence, keeping the practical problem faced by farmers in Kansas and Great Plains, the pressing need to increase productivity and sustainability of the water resources of Ogallala aquifer the project is aimed at, “Unlocking wild wheat potential for enhancing water use efficiency and to sustain yield gains under extreme water-deficit and heat stress”. Breeding program at KSU has developed 10 BC1F4 populations involving 18 wild winter wheat accessions as parents, assembled from Israel, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. The project focusses on exploring rooting morphology and anatomy of the 18 wild wheat accessions from Aegilops tauschii and Triticum dicoccoides, in comparison with the leading variety in Kansas ie., Everest. First, all 18 wild winter wheat accessions will be phenotyped for rooting biology, including root angle, root length and diameter, root anatomy, root-shoot balance and water use efficiency in the greenhouse using lysimeter facility. Second, at least two selected BC1F4 populations involving parents with superior rooting biology and higher terminal water-deficit and heat stress from controlled environment studies will be grown in field trials at Colby and Hays, Kansas. Third, the selected lines from both populations will be grown in at least four highly severe water limited farmers plots in Southwest Kansas. Finally, field visits including local farmers and also those associated with Kansas Wheat commission, private company representatives will be organized with the help of KSU wheat extension team to demonstrate the promising selected lines for improving productivity and economic returns of the farmers persistently plagued by diminishing returns.
Project objectives from proposal:
The outcomes of our efforts are primarily focused to benefit the wheat farmers in western Kansas and others across Ogallala aquifer with limited water resources, generating low income. As a major outcome, we will be positioned to develop improved varieties with superior rooting characteristics with higher water use efficiency and enhanced resilience to terminal water-deficit and heat stress. We will share our results with the local farmers, private company representatives, and Kansas wheat commissioners through field days by including our trials in KSU extension schedule.The farming community, scientists, extension specialists and undergraduate and graduate students will be educated on new knowledge gained to highlight the need to improve rooting characteristics across crops for enhancing resilience to water-deficit stress.
This project will foster sustained efforts for release of elite superior variety with stress resilience and encourage further collaboration between the university scientists and the representatives of private companies. Additionally, connecting key players ie crop physiologists, breeders, grain commissioners, local farmers and extension specialists will be a model that will be highlighted extensively through departmental seminars and other conferences, to reiterate the need to emphasize on translating research progress into economic benefits on farmer fields. The developed superior varieties (<3 years after the project timeframe) will help in bettering the standard of living of the farmers by sustaining yield increases and reduce the cost of pumping water. Overall, in the long run, the superior variety with the above characteristics will help conserve water from the rapidly depleting Ogallala aquifer.