A University of Florida researcher is leading a new project he hopes will increase worldwide wheat potential. Agronomy assistant professor Md Ali Babar and fellow researchers ultimately want to increase the so-called “harvest index” (the fraction of aboveground biomass that is actual grain) from 45% to 60%.

“This will increase wheat yield and improve food security for a growing population,” he says.

Babar says there is a tremendous need to learn more about how small grains crops, including wheat, respond to high temperatures and variable water stress environments. Yields will have to be doubled in the next 30 years to avoid a “major food crisis,” he says. That’s a 1.8% increase annually, but current yield gains are just half of that, he says.

Babar is collaborating with scientists from the International Corn and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico, the University of Nottingham in England and USDA. The researchers are specifically looking at traits as they relate to the harvest index.

The research is funded by a grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which awarded several institutions a total of $3.4 million total to research the development of new wheat varieties with better adaption to different geographies and environmental conditions.

Wheat delivers a significant amount of daily nutrients for American families and people around the world,” says NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “As demand for wheat grows with the population, wheat research plays a vital role in meeting that need. These grants help support agricultural researchers developing new wheat varieties with greater yield and help us improve global collaboration on wheat research.”

Other grant recipients include the University of California-Davis, Kansas State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and South Dakota State University. For more information, visit nifa.usda.gov/impacts.