Sustaining productivity gains in the face of climate change: A research agenda for US wheat

Yoko Kusunose, Jairus J. Rossi, David A. Van Sanford, Phillip D. Alderman, James A. Anderson, Yuan Chai, Maria K. Gerullis, S. V.Krishna Jagadish, Pierce A. Paul, Jesse B. Tack, Brian D. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wheat is a globally important crop and one of the “big three” US field crops. But unlike the other two (maize and soybean), in the United States its development is commercially unattractive, and so its breeding takes place primarily in public universities. Troublingly, the incentive structures within these universities may be hindering genetic improvement just as climate change is complicating breeding efforts. “Business as usual” in the US public wheat-breeding infrastructure may not sustain productivity increases. To address this concern, we held a multidisciplinary conference in which researchers from 12 US (public) universities and one European university shared the current state of knowledge in their disciplines, aired concerns, and proposed initiatives that could facilitate maintaining genetic improvement of wheat in the face of climate change. We discovered that climate-change-oriented breeding efforts are currently considered too risky and/or costly for most university wheat breeders to undertake, leading to a relative lack of breeding efforts that focus on abiotic stressors such as drought and heat. We hypothesize that this risk/cost burden can be reduced through the development of appropriate germplasm, relevant screening mechanisms, consistent germplasm characterization, and innovative models predicting the performance of germplasm under projected future climate conditions. However, doing so will require coordinated, longer-term, inter-regional efforts to generate phenotype data, and the modification of incentive structures to consistently reward such efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)926-934
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Kusunose, Rossi, and Van Sanford received funding through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (award no. 2020‐67013‐31681) for the research and publication of this article. Gerullis was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) under Germany's Excellence Strategy (EXC 2070—390732324—PhenoRob).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Global Change Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • United States
  • abiotic stressors
  • biotic stressors
  • climate uncertainty
  • genetic improvement
  • institutions
  • land-grant universities
  • research infrastructure
  • wheat breeding

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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