Nav: Home

Soil management may help stabilize maize yield in the face of climate change

October 03, 2016

URBANA, Ill. - How will we feed our growing population in the face of an increasingly extreme climate? Many experts suggest the answer lies in breeding novel crop varieties that can withstand the increases in drought, heat, and extreme rainfall events predicted in the not-too-distant future. But breeding is only part of the equation, according to new research from the University of Illinois and several collaborating institutions across the Midwest.

"It might not be necessary to put all the stress of climate adaptation and mitigation on new varieties. Instead, if we can manage agroecosystems more appropriately, we can buffer some of the effects of climate instability," says U of I and USDA Agricultural Research Service ecologist Adam Davis.

To find the management tool that could ameliorate the effects of climate instability, Davis and his collaborators had to go beyond the traditional field-scale experiment. "We had to think at a much broader spatial scale," he notes.

The team obtained weather, soil, and yield data from every county in four states--Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania--across a span of 15 years. They then used a new analytical approach, which borrowed from economic concepts, to determine the effects of weather and soil properties on maize yield.

"The things that were most effective at buffering against the different forms of yield instability were soil organic matter and water holding capacity," Davis says. This pattern was true across all years and all study locations.

Greater water holding capacity, which increases with more soil organic matter, gives crops an advantage in hot, dry climates. They can continue to take up water from the soil, which means continued growth and strong yields even in adverse climates.

The good news for farmers is that they may be able to manage for improvements in water holding capacity, giving them a potential tool to support novel maize varieties. "In locations with coarse soils, you can see really quick and gratifying responses to soil organic matter amendments," Davis says.

Davis suggests a number of practices to increase soil organic matter, including using cover crops, avoiding excessive soil disturbance, increasing crop rotation length, and adding composted manures. He points out that cover crops might be the best choice for some farmers.

"Cover crops are a great way for improving soil organic matter; even small amounts of cover crop biomass seem to have soil organic matter benefits," Davis explains. "They also can have weed suppressive benefits, so cover crops may represent a win-win scenario."

No matter which amendment practice farmers choose, he says, "soil organic matter amendments are an important place to start building a cropping system resilient to climate change."
-end-
The study, "Soil water holding capacity mitigates downside risk and volatility in US rainfed maize: Time to invest in soil organic matter?" is published in the journal PLOS One. Funding was provided by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture. The full article is accessible at the journal's website.

University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

Related Climate Change Articles:

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
Climate taxes on agriculture could lead to more food insecurity than climate change itself
New IIASA-led research has found that a single climate mitigation scheme applied to all sectors, such as a global carbon tax, could have a serious impact on agriculture and result in far more widespread hunger and food insecurity than the direct impacts of climate change.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.