What drives the yield gap between durum and bread wheat?

Melissa McCallum1, Courtney Peirce1, Kenton Porker1

1 Agronomy SARDI, Gate 1, Building 4c, Waite Road, Urrbrae, South Australia, 5064, melissa.mccallum@sa.gov.au


In many parts of the world, durum wheat is considered higher yielding than bread wheat particularly in yield environments above 3 t/ha however, this trend is not seen in Australia. Durum production in Australia is limited to small pockets of the higher rainfall zones or irrigated areas with the perception that compared to bread wheat, durum is a lower yielding and riskier crop. We conducted a series of targeted experiments at two locations aimed to match crop phenology and test the relative performance of durum and bread wheat when exposed to the same level of abiotic and biotic stresses. We found that the majority of the yield gap in Australia was driven by a combination of genetic and management factors that expose the increased sensitivity of durum to abiotic stresses such as heat and reproductive frost, and greater sensitivity to biotic stresses such as crown rot. When flowering at a similar time the yield gap ranged from 0.6 t/ha to 1.5 t/ha primarily due to increased sterility and crown rot. The primary management strategy available to growers is to ensure the appropriate cultivar is matched with sowing date in order to flower during a period least exposed to these stresses. However, our experiments found a lack of variation in flowering time of durum relative to bread wheat. This may restrict grower’s ability to adequately manage their crop for these stresses. While the future for durum is bright, we highlight there is significant scope for yield improvement with breeding efforts focused on increased tolerance to frost, crown rot and diversification of flowering controls for growers to exploit with sowing date management.


The Australian Society of Agronomy is the professional body for agronomists in Australia. It has approximately 500 active members drawn from government, universities, research organisations and the private sector.

Photo Credits

David Marland Photography david_marland@hotmail.com Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Charles Sturt University

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