Dryland Genetics

A Field of Proso Millet

Dryland Genetics applies cutting edge quantitative genetics and high throughput phenotyping to improve the yield and agronomic properities of naturally water use efficient crops which can grow in parts of the world where crops such as corn or rice would die. Our team brings together agronomists, plant breeders, statisticians, and computer scientists to address this grand challenge, with the goal of both helping farmers and ensuring a resilient and sustainable food suppy in coming decades in the face of competiting demands for water from agricultural and urban consumers.

In the US, significant quantities of otherwise arable land are in fact being withdrawn from production due to a shortage of freshwater for irrigation. Freshwater is becoming increasingly limited as underground aquifers are depleted and expanding cities lay claim to water supplies previously reserved for agriculture. In parallel with reductions in irrigated acreage in the US, the increased variability in annual rainfall driven by global climate change has increased the risk of crop failure for non-irrigated farmland.

“These new realities are forcing a profound reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest’s only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Agriculture, from California’s Imperial Valley to Wyoming’s cattle herds, soaks up about three-quarters of its water, and produces 15 percent of the nation’s food. But 40 million people also depend on the river and its tributaries, and their numbers are rising rapidly. … A brace of global-warming studies concludes that rising temperatures will reduce the Colorado’s average flow after 2050 by five to 35 percent, even if rainfall remains the same — and most of those studies predict that rains will diminish.” -Michael Wines, New York Times, 1/5/2014