|Analysis of the Impact of CIMMYT Research on the Australian Wheat Industry
The wheat research carried out at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico has led to large increases in wheat yields in many countries throughout the world, particularly through the development and widespread use of semi-dwarf varieties. Even though CIMMYT's breeding program efforts have been directed at developing countries, Australia has received spillover benefits from the program.
Australia has been importing material from CIMMYT since the 1960s. However, few of those imported lines have been suitable for direct release for commercial production in Australia. In most cases, the CIMMYT lines have been used as parent lines in Australian wheat breeding programs, and breeders have combined them with other Australian varieties to develop improved varieties adapted to the Australian environment. Thus the strength of the Australian wheat breeding programs has enabled Australia to obtain the gains provided through germplasm from CIMMYT.
There have been two phases to the impacts of CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program on Australia: (a) Initial introduction and usage of higher-yielding semi-dwarf wheats derived from CIMMYT; and (b) Replacement of the earlier semi-dwarfs by higher-yielding varieties developed through the continuing use of CIMMYT materials in breeding programs. The initial adoption of semi-dwarf wheats led to yield increases that varied between states. Once the semi-dwarfs had been adopted, CIMMYT’s research has led to further on-going yield improvements that consolidated and enhanced the yield gains achieved with the semi-dwarfs.
The first semi-dwarf varieties in Australia derived from those introductions were released in 1973. Since that time, breeders have released new and improved varieties regularly in all states incorporating semi-dwarf material originating from CIMMYT. By the end of 2003, 193 varieties had been released in Australia incorporating CIMMYT genetic material, either as direct CIMMYT introductions (3%), Australian varieties using a CIMMYT line as a parent (20%), or Australian varieties with some CIMMYT ancestry in at least one of the parents (77%). Since the 1970s, there has been some limited use of non-CIMMYT semi-dwarfs, but the overwhelming proportion of the wheat area has been sown to varieties based on Australian crosses using parents with CIMMYT ancestry.
In variety trials, the initial CIMMYT-derived semi-dwarf varieties had a yield advantage over other leading varieties. The average yield advantage was greatest in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, and lowest in the drier states of the South Australia and Western Australia. Basing CIMMYT’s contribution to those gains on its direct genetic contribution to the parents used in the final cross, the varietal yield increases attributable directly to CIMMYT in 2001 range from 4.1% in Queensland to 0.1% in Western Australia. At its peak in the mid-1980s, the direct contribution of CIMMYT was markedly higher in each state, but the trend has been for an increasing use of second-, third- and subsequent-generation lines from Australia as parents rather than the original CIMMYT semi-dwarfs. As a result, the direct CIMMYT contribution to those gains has declined in the past 15 years or so. At the national level, CIMMYT’s contribution to the first phase increases have been as high as 2.5% in 1990, but were only 1.3% in 2001. Thus, although the CIMMYT-derived semi-dwarf wheats led to varietal yield increases as high as 9.2% in Queensland, the majority of those gains (based on contribution to pedigree) were attributable to the Australian breeders and their already-adapted materials, rather than directly to the CIMMYT contribution.
In response to those yield gains, the adoption of the higher-yielding semi-dwarf wheats proceeded rapidly in NSW and Queensland, a little more slowly in Victoria and South Australia, and considerably slower in Western Australia. By the mid-1980s, NSW, Queensland and Victoria all had over 80% of their area sown to CIMMYT-derived wheat varieties. Western Australia was much slower to reach that level of adoption, but by 1997 had reached over 90% of its area sown to CIMMYT semi-dwarfs. At the national level, by 2001 these varieties covered 98% of the area sown to wheat in Australia.
The second phase of CIMMYT’s impact in Australia, the post-semi-dwarf phase, began in 1988, by which time semi-dwarfs had been widely adopted in virtually all states. From 1988 to 2001, Australian wheat yields increased rapidly. The contribution of CIMMYT to those gains is estimated on the basis of CIMMYT’s contribution to the first-generation pedigree of the varieties grown each year. By 2001, those phase 2 varietal yield gains were estimated at 3.2% nationally, and ranged from 1.6% in South Australia to 6.4% in Queensland.
From both the Phase 1 semi-dwarfs and the Phase 2 post-semi-dwarfs, the varietal yield gains for Australia attributable directly to CIMMYT averaged 4.6% for Australia by 2001. For South Australian and Western Australia, these gains were 2.0% in 2001, while for Queensland (10.5%), NSW (7.9%) and Victoria (7.4%) they were higher.
At the same time as these spillover yield benefits were flowing to Australia, CIMMYT was having a major impact on the world wheat production, especially in developing countries, with substantial productivity gains attributable to CIMMYT. In assessing the impact of CIMMYT, it is clear that the substantial yield gains from CIMMYT in developing countries have led to large supply shifts and a lower price for wheat globally than would have occurred without CIMMYT’s research. In this study, world wheat yields are estimated to be 12.2% higher because of CIMMYT’s research, and world prices 7.4% lower than if CIMMYT had not achieved those improvements around the world. Those impacts have also affected the benefits that Australia has received from CIMMYT.
Thus, the Australian wheat industry has been affected in two ways by CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program. First, via the spillovers of the genetic materials from CIMMYT, Australia’s wheat yields have increased by an average of 4.6% in 2001. Second, CIMMYT’s global success has resulted in 7.4% lower world prices, including those for Australian wheat. The analysis indicates that the price fall has been greater than the average yield increase, so overall Australian wheat producers have suffered a net reduction in welfare from CIMMYT’s activities. The estimated net effects over the period 1965 to 2020 are a reduction in welfare of A$1,239 million for Australian producers from CIMMYT, partly offset by the gains to Australian consumers of A$566 million. The net position for Australia is a net loss of welfare of A$673 million over that period, which is equivalent to A$12 million per year.
These negative impacts of CIMMYT on Australia are the direct outcome of genetic improvement worldwide. By drawing on the potential spillovers from the CIMMYT work aimed at developing countries, Australia has markedly reduced the welfare losses that would have otherwise occurred. The welfare losses for Australia would have been considerably larger (A$2,099 million, or A$38 million per year) without the yield gains from those spillover benefits. Thus, the spillovers have been very valuable to Australia.
The analysis shows that spillovers themselves from CIMMYT to Australia lead to welfare benefits totalling A$1,425 million over the period 1965 to 2020, almost all of which are received by Australian wheat producers. For the period since 1973, when those spillovers were first received in Australia, the net welfare gains for Australia from the CIMMYT spillovers has averaged A$30 million per year. Given that Australia’s investment in CIMMYT has averaged close to A$1 million per year, Australia has received a high return on the funds invested in developing, enhancing and capturing those spillovers from CIMMYT. Without this investment, it is likely that Australia would have had less access to CIMMYT materials.
Overall, the yield increases that the CIMMYT wheat breeding program in Mexico has generated around the world have affected Australia by lowering the price for wheat. However, the Australian wheat industry has received extremely valuable spillover yield benefits from CIMMYT to partly counter those price effects. It seems likely that Australian breeders will continue to obtain spillover benefits for some time to come, and efforts to enhance the relationship between CIMMYT and Australia are likely to provide substantial returns for Australia.