AGFACE research news: a new phase

The AGFACE program, a joint research initiative between DEDJTR and the University of Melbourne, entered a new phase over the past 18 months. Scientists are building on the past seven years of elevated CO2 research to provide solutions to future challenges facing the grains industry.

Situated in the dryland wheat belt near Horsham, Victoria, researchers at the Australian Grains Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (AGFACE) facility, are investigating the impacts of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) on wheat, pulse and oil seed crop production by elevating CO2 levels around field crops.

Findings from the first seven years of research focused on yield, grain quality and disease responses to elevated CO2 (eCO2). The research team, led by Glenn Fitzgerald (DEDJTR) and Michael Tausz (UM), are now concentrating on increasing understanding of eCO2 impacts on water and nitrogen resource use and grain yield and quality, so that  growers can capitalise on the ‘CO2 fertilisation effect’ without the negative impacts on grain protein and micronutrients.

As part of the current phase, the first year of a Nitrogen FACE field experiment has been sown. Researchers will use this site to test various nitrogen management techniques (e.g. timing, placement and mode of fertiliser application) for their ability to reverse the reduction in grain protein that occurs under eCO2.

A Trait FACE experiment is testing adaptive traits thought to affect nitrogen use efficiency (NUE), to determine if they can maintain their yield advantage under eCO2 whilst reversing the reduction of grain protein. Early results show strong yields but declines in grain protein at eCO2, regardless of NUE trait. Other traits to be tested include contrasting expressions of grain protein and grain protein quality, root system vigour, and water use efficiency.

Researchers are also expanding on earlier studies of barley yellow dwarf virus, studying the effects of eCO2 on aphids and their ability to transmit the virus under field conditions, as well as pest impact on wheat plant growth, grain protein and productivity. Initial results show an increase in virus amount under eCO2 and a 34% increase in aphid feeding on non-infected plants, potentially leading to more severe aphid-virus effects under eCO2.

A new series of AGFACE studies are investigating how nitrogen and water use efficiency traits can improve crop responses to heat and drought stress under eCO2. Purpose-built field chambers are allowing researchers to simulate heat waves, in order to better understand how eCO2 and adaptive traits interact to moderate the impact of extreme heat events on wheat and pulse production.

For more information on the AGFACE program visit

The AGFACE program is jointly run by DEDJTR and the University of Melbourne, and receives funding support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Australian Research Council.