Archive for the ‘Crops’ Category

US scientists develop new tool to predict climate change effects on crop yields

University of Illinois researchers are attempting to bridge two types of computational crop models to become more reliable predictors of crop production in the American Corn Belt.

One class of crop models is agronomy-based; the other is embedded in climate models or earth system models.

They are developed for different purposes and applied at different scales, says Kaiyu Guan, an environmental scientist and the principal investigator on the research.

“Because each has its own strengths and weaknesses, our simple idea is to combine the strengths of both types of models to make a new crop model with improved prediction performance.”

Guan and his research team implemented and evaluated a new maize growth model, represented as the CLM-APSIM model, by combining superior features in both Community Land Model (CLM) and Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM).

“The original maize model in CLM only has three phenological stages, or life cycles. Some important developmental stages such as flowering are missing, making it impossible to apply some critical stresses, such as water stress or high temperature at these specific developmental stages,” says Bin Peng, a postdoctoral researcher in Guan’s lab and also the lead author.

“Our solution is incorporating the life cycle development scheme of APSIM, which has 12 stages, into the CLM model. Through this integration, stresses induced by high temperature, soil water and nitrogen deficits, can be taken into account in the new model.”

Peng says they chose CLM as the hosting framework to implement the new model because it is more process-based and can be coupled with climate models.

“This is important as the new tool can be used to investigate the two-way feedback between an agroecosystem and a climate system in our future studies.”

As well as replacing the original maize phenology model in CLM with that from the APSIM model, the researchers have made several other innovative improvements in the new model. A new carbon allocation scheme and a grain number simulation scheme were added, as well as a refinement to the original canopy structure scheme.

“The most alluring improvement is that our new model is closer to getting the right yield with the right mechanism,” says Guan.

“The original CLM model underestimates above-ground biomass but overestimates the harvest index of maize, leading to apparent right-yield simulation with the wrong mechanism. Our new model corrected this deficiency in the original CLM model.”

Peng says the phenology scheme of APSIM is quite generic.

“We can easily extend our new model to simulate the growth processes of other staple crops, such as soybeans and wheat. This is definitely in our plan and we are already working on it.

“All the work was conducted on Blue Waters, a powerful petascale supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) on the University of Illinois campus,” says Peng. “We are currently working on parameter sensitivity analysis and Bayesian calibration of this new model and also on a high resolution regional simulation over the U.S. Corn Belt, all of which would not be possible without the precious computational resources provided by Blue Waters.”

The study, “Improving maize growth processes in the community land model: Implementation and evaluation,” is published (HERE) in Agricultural and Forest Meteorology.


Scientists remove reliance on seasonality in new lines of broccoli

Scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich are developing a new line of fast-growing sprouting broccoli that goes from seed to harvest in eight to 10 weeks. It has the potential to deliver two full crops a season in-field or it can be grown all year round in protected conditions, which could help with continuity of supply when growers are no longer reliant on seasonal weather conditions.

This innovation in crop production builds on the wealth of fundamental research carried out by Professor Dame Caroline Dean and her lab on vernalisation — the need for some plants to experience a period of cold weather before they can flower. The timing of the switch to flowering is critical for a plant’s adaptation to the environment and its resulting yield.

A press release from the centre (HERE) says a team led by working collaboratively with Professor Dean, have focused on translating this knowledge to Brassica crop species.

Many crops rely on this period of cold before they can flower and so are very susceptible to fluctuating winter temperatures.

Recent adverse weather in Murcia, Spain, led to a shortage of courgettes, iceberg lettuce and broccoli. The team at the John Innes Centre has been working on way to increase crop productivity and reduce vulnerability to fluctuations in climate.

Dr Irwin said, “We harnessed our knowledge of how plants regulate the flowering process to remove the requirement for a period of cold temperature and bring this new broccoli line to harvest faster. This means growers could turn around two field-based crops in one season, or if the broccoli is grown in protected conditions, 4-5 crops in a year.”

This line has been developed with strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The John Innes Centre aims to provide pre-breeding material to plant breeders and growers for year-round scheduling of Brassica vegetables.

The new broccoli line developed at the centre is one of a number that have been selected as a step toward climate-proofing our crops.Dr Irwin said the development has the potential to remove growers’ exposure to seasonal weather fluctuations from crop production. This could mean broccoli — and in future other vegetables where the flower is eaten, such as cauliflowers — can be grown anywhere at any time enabling continuous production and supply of fresh local produce.

Judith and her team were surprised to see how rapidly plants grew from seed to harvestable sprouting broccoli spears. Detailed analysis identified the gene responsible for this trait. They are now testing further generations under conventional glasshouse and controlled environment conditions. This line has been developed using conventional breeding techniques.

The next steps from experimental line to commercialisation involve flavour and nutritional analysis and performance testing under true protected and field commercial growing conditions.

Big future predicted for bright-skinned White Beauty potato

A new bright-skinned potato, called White Beauty, has been produced from a 15-year breeding programme at Plant & Food Research. It is a cross between the disease-resistant Summer Delight potato and the old multipurpose Australian favourite Coliban.

The result is a bright, versatile potato described as extremely high-yielding.

“White Beauty comes with a lot of promise,” says Plant & Food Research crop scientist John Anderson.

“Not only is it showing itself to be an excellent all-round cooking potato, it has a very nice taste, which we think will prove a real challenge to other potato cultivars in the market.”

White Beauty has a lower sugar and higher dry matter content than many other potatoes in the fresh market potato range, such as Nadine, the most widely consumed white potato. This means it makes a good mash and is great for roasting, as well as being delicious boiled whole, making it a more versatile potato for consumers.

Although marketed as White Beauty, the cultivar name is”Crop39″ and is licensed to Morgan Laurenson Ltd.

The company believes the impressive characteristics of the new cultivar should translate well into wide distribution.

“White Beauty is set to become a serious market contender in the washed and brushed table potato range,” says Morgan Laurenson Managing Director Bill Foster. “From the perspective of both the grower and the consumer, we believe White Beauty has the potential to be a hit.

“The characteristics of White Beauty also bode well for exploring new export opportunities,” says Mr Foster.

Although White Beauty has been bred specifically for New Zealand conditions, it is being evaluated in both Australia and the USA.

It will be commercially available to growers through Morgan Laurenson Ltd from 2017.

Climate change will require land-use change to keep up with global food demand, study finds

A study led by researchers from the University of Birmingham shows that much of the land now used to grow wheat, maize and rice is vulnerable to the effects of climate team.

Without significant improvements in technology, global crop yields are likely to fall in the main growing areas and production will be forced to move to new areas.

The world population is projected to top nine billion in the next 30 years. The amount of food produced globally to feed them must double.

The study says the effects of climate change could lead to a major drop in productivity in the main growing areas by 2050, along with a corresponding increase in potential productivity of many previously-unused areas, pointing to a major shift in the map of global food production.

Published this month in Nature Communications, the study uses a new approach combining standard climate change models with maximum land productivity data, to predict how the potential productivity of cropland is likely to change over the next 50-100 years as a result of climate change.

The results show:

  • Nearly half of all maize produced in the world (43%), and a third of all wheat and rice (33% and 37% respectively), is grown in areas vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
  • Croplands in tropical areas, including Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and the Eastern US, are likely to experience the most drastic reductions in their potential to grow these crops
  • Croplands in temperate areas, including western and central Russia and central Canada, are likely to experience an increase in yield potential, leading to many new opportunities for agriculture

While the effects of climate change are usually expected to be greatest in the world’s poorest areas, this study suggests that developed countries may be equally affected.

Efforts to increase food production usually focus on closing the yield gap, which means minimising the difference between what could potentially be grown on a given area of land and what is actually harvested. Highly developed countries already have a very small yield gap, so the negative effects of climate change on potential yield are likely to be felt more acutely in these areas.

“Our model shows that on many areas of land currently used to grow crops, the potential to improve yields is greatly decreased as a result of the effects of climate change,” says lead researcher and University of Birmingham academic Dr Tom Pugh.

“But it raises an interesting opportunity for some countries in temperate areas, where the suitability of climate to grow these major crops is likely to increase over the same time period.”

The political, social and cultural effects of these major changes to the distribution of global cropland would be profound, as currently productive regions become net importers and vice versa.

But climate is just one factor when looking at the future of global agricultural practices, Pugh said.

Local factors such as soil quality and water availability also have a significant effect on crop yields in real terms.

Production of the world’s three major cereal crops nevertheless must keep up with demand. If this can’t be done  by making existing land more efficient, the only other option is to increase the amount of land that is used.

Public lecture on pathogen that chews into potato crop yields

Professor Richard Falloon, who has spent more than 20 years researching the pathogen (Spongospora subterranea) which causes powdery scab of potato, will be delivering a lecture at Lincoln University on October 6.

Richard is Professor of Plant Pathology at the Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University and a Principal Scientist at the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food

He will describe the interactions of the pathogen with potato plants and the harmful effects it has for plant productivity and crop yields.

He will outline details of the biology of the pathogen and describe its place in the community of soil-borne organisms that infect potato plants.

Details: 6pm-7.30pm (doors open at 5.30pm), Thursday 6 October 2016, Stewart Building, Lincoln University. Light refreshments will be available before and after the event. Parking available at Orchard carpark off Springs Road.

Organiser: Lincoln University, Canterbury. This is part of the Change Makers series of free public lectures.

Forage radish is found to be the cream of cover crops in New England

University of New Hampshire scientists have found that forage radish is at the top of the list of beneficial cover crops farmers can use to suppress weeds and increase production values,  according to new research from the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station.

Cover crops, grown before or after cash crops are planted and harvested, protect soil from erosion, improve soil fertility, suppress weeds, and/or provide additional habitat for pollinators and other beneficial organisms. Because they minimise erosion and can help to keep nitrogen and other nutrients from leaching to ground waters or being lost via other pathways, they can be important tools for reducing pollution and other negative environmental impacts associated with agricultural activities.

The research was aimed at determining which cover crop species might be most useful for farmers in the New England region, said Richard Smith, assistant professor of agroecology.

It is presented in the article “In-Season and Carry-Over Effects of Cover Crops on Productivity and Weed Suppression” in Agronomy Journal.

The researchers examined the performance of eight different cover crops intended to fill the late summer and fall fallow period that occurs between crop harvest in the summer and the following springtime planting of a subsequent cash crop. This fallow period would typically follow the harvest of vegetable crops such as snap beans, broccoli, sweet corn, and spinach, or corn silage.

Cover crops were planted at the experiment station’s Woodman Horticultural Research Farm either as monocultures (one cover crop) or bi-cultures (mixture of two cover crops).

Crops planted include annual ryegrass, winter rye, alfalfa, crimson clover, white clover, hairy vetch, soybean, and forage radish. The researchers also included a control in which no cover crop was grown.

Some of these species, such as winter rye and hairy vetch, are quite common in the region where the work was undertaken. The rest are less commonly used as cover crops.

The two-year study allowed scientists to determine not just the average values for each cover crop but also the consistency of each cover crop’s performance.

“Based on our research, we found that forage radish was consistently among the highest biomass-producing treatments in the fall, provided excellent fall weed suppression, and resulted in some of the highest production values in the test-crop,” Smith said.

“We were particularly surprised with how well the forage radish performed, both in terms of fall growth and fall weed suppression, and how much of an impact it had on the subsequent test-crop despite the fact that it died in the winter,” Smith said.

There is growing interest in using cover crops to improve soil health and sequester carbon in the soil. Many New England farmers are already using some of these cover crops.

Smith said it was not uncommon for as much as 50 per cent of a farm to be in cover crops during the growing season.

But there is a relative lack of information about how well different cover crops perform in the region, particularly in regard to weed suppression, given the short growing season and relatively intense winters.

The study is part of a larger research effort that aims to provide New England’s farmers with science-based information about agricultural practices that reduce the need for economically and environmentally costly agrichemicals and other external inputs. The goal is to develop biologically based practices that are appropriate for their operations and that improve their bottom line.

Drought-tolerant crop is trialled to save water on dairy farms in Texas and New Mexico

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are trying to save water in one of the fastest growing dairy regions in the United States by encouraging use of a drought-tolerant crop as cattle feed, the same way it is sometimes used in India.

Dairy production is growing rapidly in the Southern High Plains region of West Texas and New Mexico, where most farmers use corn silage or alfalfa as a key feed component. Corn and alfalfa require more water than other crops. This is stretching the Ogallala Aquifer, the source of water for that region, beyond capacity.

Prasanna Gowda, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) engineer, was aware that dairy cattle in his native India are raised on finger millet (Eleusine coracana). Moreover, milk from finger millet-fed cows there sells for a higher price.

As part of their research, Gowda and his colleagues grew five finger millet varieties in Bushland for 120 days, selecting plants of each variety based on crude protein, fibre content, and other nutritional qualities. They compared the finger millet’s nutritional qualities to those of corn and sorghum from neighboring plots.

Gowda found that finger millet had higher levels of potassium than corn, twice as much calcium, four to five times as much phosphorus, and comparable levels of protein, fibre and total digestible nutrients. (Calcium and phosphorus deficiencies reduce dairy cattle’s appetites and growth and lower milk production.)

Finger millet also used less water than corn and sorghum. The one drawback was that finger millet produced lower yields than corn.

Even so, Gowda says the results showed that finger millet could be a viable feed source for dairy cattle as a supplement to corn and that it could help save water in areas where water is limited.

The ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency.

More information about this research can be found in the June 2016 issue of AgResearch magazine.