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Historical analysis of the effects of breeding on the height of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum) and consequences for lodging

Berry, P. M., Kendall, S., Rutterford, Z., Orford, S., Griffiths, S.
Euphytica 2015 v.203 no.2 pp. 375-383
Triticum aestivum, genes, genetic markers, grain yield, lodging, plant breeders, plant morphology, risk, stems, straw, variety trials, winter wheat, United Kingdom
The relationship between crop height and yield is complex with genes and genetic markers for greater height associated with both increases and decreases in yield. As a result of this the optimum height for maximum potential yield is not well understood and has been estimated at between 70 and 100 cm. This study investigated the effect of plant breeding on the height of UK winter wheat varieties by analysing data on straw shortness scores and absolute height collected from UK national variety testing trials between 1977 and 2013. The analysis showed that varietal introductions between the early 1970s and 1980 shortened plant height by approximately 15 cm (110–95 cm) followed by a gradual reduction to about 88 cm by the 1990s. There was no significant trend in height between 1990 and 2013. It was estimated that the reduction in plant height between 1970 and 2000 would have been sufficient to counteract the increase in lodging risk caused by the increase in yield potential of new varieties over this period of approximately 3 t/ha. It is predicted that the lodging risk of varieties introduced since 2000 are likely to have increased due to further increases in yield potential and the absence of further shortening. Possible reasons why UK plant breeders have not continued to shorten wheat are considered.