Frost trends and their estimated impact on yield in the Australian wheatbelt


Radiant spring frosts occurring during reproductive developmental stages can result in catastrophic yield loss for wheat producers. To better understand the spatial and temporal variability of frost, the occurrence and impact of frost events on rain-fed wheat production was estimated across the Australian wheatbelt for 1957–2013 using a 0.05 ° gridded weather data set. Simulated yield outcomes at 60 key locations were compared with those for virtual genotypes with different levels of frost tolerance. Over the last six decades, more frost events, later last frost day, and a significant increase in frost impact on yield were found in certain regions of the Australian wheatbelt, in particular in the South-East and West. Increasing trends in frost-related yield losses were simulated in regions where no significant trend of frost occurrence was observed, due to higher mean temperatures accelerating crop development and causing sensitive post-heading stages to occur earlier, during the frost risk period. Simulations indicated that with frost-tolerant lines the mean national yield could be improved by up to 20% through (i) reduced frost damage (~10% improvement) and (ii) the ability to use earlier sowing dates (adding a further 10% improvement). In the simulations, genotypes with an improved frost tolerance to temperatures 1 °C lower than the current 0 °C reference provided substantial benefit in most cropping regions, while greater tolerance (to 3 °C lower temperatures) brought further benefits in the East. The results indicate that breeding for improved reproductive frost tolerance should remain a priority for the Australian wheat industry, despite warming climates.

Journal of Experimental Botany
Bangyou Zheng
Bangyou Zheng
Data Scientist / Digital Agronomist

a research scientist of digital agriculture at the CSIRO.