Future-proofing food from pests and climate change

Scientists at Agriculture Victoria are investigating the links between climate change, pests and food production.

Research has confirmed increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is increasing global temperature and causing climate change, which can subsequently have a direct negative effect on food production.

Agriculture Victoria scientists studied the impact that climate change is having on food production and investigated ways to mitigate the effects – specifically looking at the application of fertiliser on wheat.

The research looked at wheat under future projected levels of carbon dioxide as well as different nitrogen application rates, to understand the effect on the growth and quality of wheat and its susceptibility to insect pests.

Research Scientist Dr Piotr Trebicki said in the right conditions, higher levels of carbon dioxide can increase wheat yield, but can also diminish its nutritional value.

“The impact of these changes on insect behaviour is poorly understood,” he said.

Wheat can act as a host for insect pests such as aphids, which is a major pest of cereals worldwide.

Technical assistant Eva Carreras Navarro said the research team grew wheat under current and future projected levels of carbon dioxide and added different amounts of fertiliser to examine the impact on wheat growth and its suitability as a host for insect pests.

“Our research shows that future carbon dioxide levels decreased aphid pest population, however, adding more fertiliser improved wheat quality for the pest, and as a result, increased the number of aphids,” Eva said.

"Identifying the effect of fertilizer application under predicted carbon dioxide conditions is extremely important to prevent counterproductive consequences affecting future wheat production.” Eva added.

She continued “with the pressure of a growing population, it is essential to continue investigating the impacts climate change can have on food production”.

The research was published recently and is the first of its kind internationally. The results will help Agriculture Victoria researchers anticipate future consequences and take action, despite the complexity involved with maintaining food quality, while keeping pests at bay.

Read the full research paper ‘Elevated Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen Impact Wheat and Its Aphid Pest’ at the Frontiers in Plant Science website.

The Victorian Government is investing almost $20 million in emissions reduction activities over the next four years through the agriculture sector pledge. This investment will deliver flagship trials of leading research and technological innovations that will help farmers to reduce emissions while maintaining productivity and profitability.