Due to climate change, crop production in Austria is increasingly affected by damage, especially as a result of drought and precipitation deficits. To ensure sustainable food security, domestic agriculture needs new plant varieties as an important adaptation measure to climate change.
The common, continuous and central goal of the cooperation projects KLIMAFIT I & II is to develop climate-tolerant varieties for Austria with special consideration of drought and heat stress tolerance, to adapt them to the advancing climate change as well as to regional requirements and to ensure crop diversity in terms of sustainable management.
The increase in heat waves associated with climate change, untypical precipitation distribution, as well as a changing spectrum of plant diseases or increased occurrence of plant pests due to milder winters will complicate arable farming in Austria in the future. These changes in growing conditions will have a negative impact on the yield performance of established varieties. Climate change thus poses an existential threat to food security in Austria. Therefore, the development of new, climate-smart varieties is of great importance.
The KLIMAFIT I project (2017 to 2020) and the follow-up KLIMAFIT II project (2021 to 2023) bring together Austrian plant breeding and seed companies (Saatgut Austria, Saatzucht Donau, Saatzucht Gleisdorf, RWA, Saatbau Linz, Probstdorfer Saatzucht, Niederösterreichische Saatbaugenossenschaft, Corteva Agriscience) to work together on the important goal for Austrian agriculture of securing yields and thus supplies under more severe climatic conditions. Within the framework of the KLIMAFIT projects, necessary breeding work is implemented, which forms the basis for the development of climate-resistant varieties adapted to the future climatic conditions in Austria. This involved work on breeding new varieties with increased eco-stability, which deliver stable yields even under different stress and extreme conditions (heat, drought, frost, wetness, severe weather).
In order to generate a diversity of new genetic material for climate-tolerant varieties, the KLIMAFIT projects also include work on pre-selection of promising genotypes with a special focus on drought and heat stress tolerance. In this way, new potential crossing partners are identified, which are then tested as selected breeding lines in plot trials with regard to their yield performance and qualities - especially under drought and heat stress conditions. A large number of selected breeding lines will be tested in KLIMAFIT plots all over Europe and Austria. All relevant crops, from different cereals to maize, oil and protein crops and potatoes are included in the project. Breeding lines that have proved successful in the plot trials in a wide range of environments are then registered for evaluation by the breeding companies involved in the project and, if approved, are subsequently made available to Austrian agriculture.
Over the three-year duration of the Klimafit I project, a differentiated picture emerged with regard to climatic cultivation conditions. The first two project years 2018 and 2019 in particular were characterized by persistent dryness and longer periods of drought in Austria. In the final project year 2020, after initial spring drought due to humid summer months, there was significantly less drought stress, but heavy precipitation and increased disease pressure favored the selection of climate-smart varieties with increased ecological stability.
The integration of Austrian trial sites led to specific genotypes adapted to the region. This represents a significant contribution to food security with domestic products. By including locations within and outside Europe, a very broad experimental network with a wide range of climatic conditions could be spanned. In this way, promising breeding lines could be tested in regions where climatic conditions already prevail, as they are to be expected in Austria in the future due to climate change. The large number of trial locations also made it possible to select genotypes with pronounced drought stress tolerance in all crop types in each of the three project years. It was also possible to select for disease resistance at many locations. The many variety trials conducted and the subsequent quantification and determination of the qualities of the selected breeding lines form the basis for further steps towards the development of climate-smart varieties.
The crossbreeding trials carried out on the crops included in the project support the establishment of a broad gene pool that can also be accessed for future breeding activities. A first pre-selection of genotypes with a special focus on drought and heat stress tolerance in the breeding garden served to identify potential crossing partners in order to subsequently improve the native varieties in the new traits sought. A large number of plot trials scattered throughout Europe helped to select breeding lines that produced satisfactory yields despite drought stress at the trial site. Additional bonitures and measurements for quality analysis and to determine the behavior of the plants in the environment led to breeding lines in all crops included in the project being officially evaluated.
The aim of the KLIMAFIT I and II projects is to develop new, climate-smart varieties that are adapted to the various stress factors (drought, heat, increased incidence of plant diseases and pests) that are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change. In the course of KLIMAFIT I, various breeding lines have already been tested at numerous trial locations throughout Europe. In the process, it was also possible to select genotypes that are tolerant to the various stress factors. Within the framework of KLIMAFIT II, the successful work will be continued. Plot trials will also be set up at different locations in Europe to identify breeding lines that also produce yields under drought conditions. The breeding activities implemented in the project will make an important contribution to future sustainable food security in Austria by developing drought- and heat-stress-tolerant climate-smart varieties. In addition, a significant contribution is made to the preservation of crop diversity in Austria.
Benefit of the project
The work carried out in the Klimafit I and Klimafit II projects will provide agriculture with varieties that are better adapted to climate change in the future. This will make it possible to safeguard grain yields and also the qualities of agricultural products in difficult climatic conditions such as prolonged drought or hot spells, and thus make a significant contribution to food security with domestic products.
With the development of climate-smart varieties, the Klimafit projects actively contribute to the implementation of political objectives that are important for society, such as the Austrian protein strategy (expansion of the supply chains with domestic plant proteins) or the EU Farm to Fork strategy (reduction of the pesticides used, increase in organic farming while maintaining high yields and ensuring food security).
Project acronym: Klimafit I & II
Project management: Saatgut Austria - Association of Plant Breeders and Seed Merchants of Austria Project management AGES: DI Dr. Philipp von Gehren, Institute for Seed and Seedlings, Plant Protection Service and Bees Project partners: Saatzucht Donau GesmbH & CoKG Saatbau Linz eGen Saatzucht Gleisdorf GesmbH RWA Raiffeisen Ware Austria AG Niederösterreichische Saatbaugenossenschaft Corteva Agriscience Austria GmbH Probstdorfer Saatzucht GesmbH & CoKG Saatzucht Edelhof
Funding: the project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management (BML) and by the provinces within the framework of the special guideline of the BML for the promotion of agriculture and forestry from national funds, BMLFUW-LE.1.1.12/0066-II/8/2015, as amended.
Project duration: 10/2017 to 12/2020 (Klimafit I) or 01/2021 to 12/2023 (Klimafit II).
von Gehren, P., Bomers, S., Mechtler, K., Mottl, K., Ribarits, A., 2021. climate-smart varieties to increase yield security in dryland. Proceedings of the 75th ALVA conference "Agriculture in the future - everything digital", Wieselburg-Land, Austria.
von Gehren, P., Prat, N., Flamm, C., Felder, H., Mechtler, K., 2021. KLIMAFIT - Third Publishable Interim Report on Research Project Number 2020-0.328.466.
von Gehren, P., Bomers, S., Ribarits, A., Mottl, K., Mechtler, K., Flamm, C., Brandstetter, A., 2021. Adapting to a changing climate: first steps towards assessing a variety's climate-fitness in VCU trials. Online presentation 72nd Plant Breeders Meeting.
Last updated: 07.09.2023