Economic assessment of wheat breeding options for potential improved levels of post head-emergence frost tolerance


Frost, during reproductive developmental stages, especially post head emergence frost (PHEF), can result in catastrophic yield loss for wheat producers. Breeding for improved PHEF tolerance may allow greater yield to be achieved, by (i) reducing direct frost damage and (ii) facilitating earlier crop sowing to reduce the risk of late-season drought and/or heat stress. This paper provides an economic feasibility analysis of breeding options for PHEF tolerant wheat varieties. It compares the economic benefit to growers with the cost of a wheat breeding program aimed at developing PHEF tolerant varieties. The APSIM wheat model, with a frost-impact and a phenology gene-based module, was employed to simulate direct and indirect yield benefits for various levels of improved frost tolerance. The economic model considers optimal profit, based on sowing date and nitrogen use, rather than achieving maximum yield. The total estimated fixed cost of breeding program was AUD 1293 million, including large scale seed production to meet seed demand, with AUD 1.2 million year−1 to run breeding program after advanced development and large scale field experiments. The results reveal that PHEF tolerant varieties would lead to a significant increase in economic benefits through reduction in direct damage and an increase in yield through early sowing. The economic benefits to growers of up to AUD 4841 million could be realised from growing PHEF tolerant lines if useful genetic variation can be found. Sensitivity analyses indicated that the benefits are particularly sensitive to increases in fixed costs, seed replacement, discount rate, and to delays in variety release. However, the investment still remains viable for most tested scenarios. Based on comparative economic benefits, if breeders were able to develop PHEF tolerant varieties that could withstand cold temperatures −4 °C below the current damage threshold, there is very little further economic value of breeding total frost tolerant varieties.

Field Crop Research
Bangyou Zheng
Bangyou Zheng
Data Scientist / Digital Agronomist

a research scientist of digital agriculture at the CSIRO.