Research into climate-resilient plant production will deliver new technologies to enable food and fibre industries to create higher-value products, say researchers.
Lincoln University has been granted $10.7 million from the government’s Endeavour fund to research how volatile chemicals produced by fungi –fungal volatile organic compounds (FVOC) – can be applied in agriculture to increase plant resistance to stress.
Research programme leader Professor John Hampton said the products that are eventually produced will deliver a significant advantage for NZ farmers.
“The work we’re doing at Lincoln University will assist NZ’s food and fibre sector to meet the challenge of remaining a producer of safe food in a climate change-impacted world, while also demonstrating and maintaining our reputation as environmental kaitiaki,” Hampton said.
As well as their ability to increase plant resilience and promote growth, the new FVOC products will contribute to more sustainable farming practices in other ways. They will contribute to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions through reducing the need to apply chemical pesticides and consequently the use of machinery powered by fossil fuel.
“Improved plant water-use efficiency resulting from the application of our products will also reduce the need to pump water for irrigation.
“We also see a role for the new products in forestry plantings of both indigenous and exotic species designed to contribute to reducing CO2 release through allowing increased seedling survival and stronger growth for nursery production,” Hampton said.
The university’s approved Endeavour research programme focuses on the development of FVOC products, which will enable plants to more strongly resist stress caused by adverse climate conditions or disease.
The new FVOC products can be applied as a seed treatment or incorporated into soil.
They will interact with the plant through chemical signalling, inducing changes within the plant that allow it to increase its resistance to drought, heat and microbes causing plant disease stress.
The Lincoln research also aims to show how the beneficial impacts of FVOCs on plants are transmitted to the next generation via seed.
The goal of the research programme is to have commercial FVOC products available for use by New Zealand farmers by 2030.
Once in use the products will mitigate climate change impacts on pastoral, arable and vegetable production. The new knowledge generated can also be applied to native ecosystems to protect them from external stressors including climate change.
Lincoln University Provost Professor Chad Hewitt said the FVOC research project exemplifies the extent and quality of the research being undertaken at the university.
“As appropriate for Aotearoa’s only specialist land-based university, Lincoln is at the vanguard of the country’s drive to lead the world in the production of outstanding, ethically raised food and fibre and our research contributes directly to this ambition.
“By developing seeds already primed for resilience to abiotic (drought and heat stress) and biotic (microbes causing plant diseases) stress, for a property that will be passed through plant generations, our FVOC research will deliver the new products, tools and technologies to enable our food and fibre industries to create higher value products for domestic and international consumers,” Hewitt said.
He said the research is a fitting exemplar of the university’s commitment to building collaborative partnerships with industry and other research providers to achieve innovative and sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing land-based challenges.
Lincoln University has leveraged existing research partnerships with AgResearch, Massey University, Scion, University of Canterbury, University of Otago and Ngāi Tahu Farming and Forestry in its FVOC research programme. The university has also established international collaborations in the US, Singapore, Mexico and Austria.