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RESEARCH: Reducing water loss from plants

Posted 20 December 2010

Researchers at Harper Adams University College are hoping to protect wheat crops from drought damage by using special compounds that reduce water loss.

All plants lose water from their leaves and if this is more than what is available in the soil, growth is reduced. Antitranspirants decrease this water loss and act as ‘waterproofing.’

These are commonly sprayed onto Christmas trees to reduce water loss and needle drop but are not currently used in crop protection.

Research Coordinator, Professor Peter Kettlewell, has been investigating this subject since 1996. He said: “Research into antitranspirants first began in the 1960s but they found that although they can help crops to grow in drought conditions, they also restrict the intake of CO2 and in turn, reduce photosynthesis.

“We started looking at these methods with an honours project and it has been on-going since. It’s been proven that prior to wheat crops entering the flowering stage, water shortage has a major effect on the yield.

“If antitranspirants, which wear off after a few weeks, are sprayed onto the crops at this point, the reduction in photosynthesis matters less and water is saved at the most critical time.”

Although conducted in the UK, the results of this research will have more use in drier wheat-growing countries such as Australia, North America and the Mediterranean.

If implemented there, antitranspirants could help farmers to protect their yields and combat the effects of climate change.

Professor Kettlewell added: “At the moment, the compounds are expensive, although the benefits in yields can outweigh those costs.

“Hopefully this research will encourage farmers to consider using them, and therefore increase demand and lower costs.”

Professor Kettlewell recently presented a paper on this topic at the Association of Applied Biologists’ ‘Water & nitrogen use efficiency in plants and crops’ conference in Lincolnshire.

Postgradute researcher, Minuka Weerasinghe, has also been investigating this issue. Visit http://www.harper-adams.ac.uk/research/profile/43 for more information.

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