Researchers in Canberra have developed a clever and much cheaper way of identifying crops which can survive droughts.
They've identified characteristics of types of wheat which indicate how well each type will grow when rainfall is low.
"The commercial outcomes will be tremendous," said Dr Arun Yadav, one of the leaders of the research.
Over seven years, he and his colleagues have studied many different types of wheat to see which chemicals are common to the ones that wither without wetness and those which keep growing as a drought develops.
They have identified four substances - amino acids - in those types of wheat that wilt and die, so the task now is to analyse every conceivable type of wheat and rule out those which have those four chemicals.
A big commercial company has already shown interest. It was expected to meet ANU scientists along with the university's experts on commercial agreements.
The technological innovation does not mean that wheat crops will be able to survive the very worst droughts like the current one - if there's no rain, nothing will grow - but it should make it easier for wheat to grow in lesser droughts.
"Hardy crop plants that can maintain high yields under drought will help farmers produce more food reliably and maintain domestic and export markets for Australia," Dr Yadav said.
We have used the taxpayers' money so it's our responsibility to deliver something back to the country.Dr Arun Yadav
"Drought is a major agricultural challenge in Australia, affecting food production, farmers' livelihoods and costing the government billions of dollars in relief efforts."
Most of the funding for the research came from the public purse. Different tasks were shared between the ANU, the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Funding came from the federal government - the tax-payers - via the Grains Research and Development Corporation.
The task now, according to Dr Yadav, is to make sure the public is rewarded by, firstly, getting the benefit of hardier wheat and, secondly, by reaping a commercial profit.
If farmers faced a choice of, say, a thousand types of wheat for their particular climate, they would have a much better and cheaper way of deciding which strain would work.
The financial benefit to the university would come through revenue by licensing the idea to a commercial company.
"We need to be super-possessive about our idea," said the researcher. He was pleased because the research was very commercially orientated, with obvious practical benefits.
"We have used the taxpayers' money so it's our responsibility to deliver something back to the country."