AGFACE achievements celebrated
27 June 2018
Over a decade's worth of research in the name of future food production was celebrated at Horsham recently.
To mark the end of the landmark Australian Grains Free Air CO2 Enrichment (AGFACE) project, and its many achievements, scientists, researchers, investors, engineers and technicians gathered at Horsham Golf Club to debrief on the 11-year-long investigation and marvel at its many outcomes.
AGFACE was the only FACE facility in the world located in a semi-arid zone, allowing researchers to test the effect of elevated CO2 on crops in drought conditions.
The project was jointly managed by Agriculture Victoria and the University of Melbourne, with funding support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Australian Research Council and many university fellowships and funding supporting students.
Project leader and Agriculture Victoria senior research scientist, Glenn Fitzgerald said experiments carried out in the Wimmera and Mallee tested the impacts of elevated CO2 on growth, physiology, agronomy, yield, and quality of grain, bread and noodles.
"We tested the effects of drought, heat waves, different inputs and types of fertiliser, soil types and studied pests and diseases and crop traits for response to CO2," he said.
"Ultimately, the main question we wanted to answer was: How can Australian agriculture maximise the positives and reduce the negatives of elevated CO2 on crop production in a changing climate?"
Dr Fitzgerald reminded all gathered of the extraordinary amount of work that went in to the project which was initially set up to examine how wheat would respond to future atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which over the next 35 years are predicted to rise from 405ppm to 550ppm.
"Over 11 years, at two locations and five facilities we ended up performing experiments on nine species (wheat, peas, lentils, canola, clover, medic, barley, brassica vegetables and chickpeas)," he said.
"Of these crop types we looked at 55 cultivars across 55 environments, performed 64 experiments and over the 11 years took 100,000 unique measurements!"
Dr Fitzgerald led a round of applause for the Agriculture Victoria technical staff who carried out the bulk of the field work and led several necessary innovations needed to meet the challenges of the project's many experiments.
Beyond its many outcomes and findings, the AGFACE project was notable because of the methodology involved in carrying out field experiments.
To mimic future carbon dioxide levels, a 45,000 litre (35 tonne) gas cylinder was installed at the Horsham plant breeding centre which fed into pipes arranged the field trials in octagonal rings ranging from four to 16 metres in diameter.
Plants grown inside these rings were exposed to 550ppm levels of CO2 during daylight hours.
A key finding from the research was that crops grown under elevated CO2 grow bigger, but they will need more nitrogen and phosphorus to support them. Grain quality, on the other hand, is likely to decrease.
The project also led to discoveries about the effects of elevated CO2 on soils and Agriculture Victoria cereal chemists confirmed that grain protein levels and bread quality would decrease, along with important micro nutrients such as zinc and iron.
Dr Fitzgerald said with each passing year the project grew, with research projects leading to more questions and more collaborations, both nationally and internationally.
"All up the project involved over 110 personnel with researchers and collaborators from across the globe including Harvard University, NASA and the CSIRO," Dr Fitzgerald said.
"We've produced 87 peer-reviewed publications so far, including a publication in Nature, the highest ranking scientific journal in the world.
"The project also produced nine book chapters, 15 theses and was represented at over 130 conferences and 100 field days and other events.
"It was a world-class project supported by a world-class team."
Contact Name: Justine Severin
Contact Number: 0436 674 804
Categorised under: Agriculture,Research