Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Earlier plantings underlie yield gains in northern Corn Belt

03.03.2008
U.S. farmers plant corn much earlier today than ever before and it seems to be paying off, at least in the north. Earlier plantings could account for up to half of the yield gains seen in some parts of the northern Corn Belt since the late 1970s, a new study has found.

Midwest corn-growers produce three times more corn today than they did a half-century ago. After finding that farmers also sow seeds around two weeks earlier now than 30 years ago, Chris Kucharik, a scientist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, set out to discover if earlier plantings – and, thus, longer growing seasons – have contributed to the jump in production.

In a study published online today (Feb. 27) in the Agronomy Journal, Kucharik reports that earlier planting could help explain 20 to 50 percent of the yield gains in the northern Corn Belt states of Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan since 1979. Meanwhile, the other major factor he considered, climate, seems to have had little impact.

“What I found was that while climate probably has contributed in a small way to the yield trend, the overwhelming contribution has been from this land management change,” says Kucharik, an expert on climate and agriculture with the Nelson Institute’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE).

As concerns about climate change continue to rise, scientists are struggling to forecast the potential impacts – both positive and negative – on the world’s ability to grow staple crops like corn. This is especially true now, as corn is being increasingly tapped as a feedstock for ethanol production.

While the focus on climate is warranted, Kucharik cautions that scientists can’t lose sight of the role of human decision-making and management practices. His study reveals that farmers aren’t necessarily planting their crops sooner because of warmer springtime temperatures brought on by global warming. Instead, seeds engineered to endure the colder and wetter soils of early spring have likely allowed northern farmers to adopt longer-season – and higher-yield – hybrids.

“Before we jump to conclusions about the impacts of climate change on agriculture, we really need to consider subtle management changes that are taking place and will likely continue to take place in the future,” says Kucharik. “Anytime you deal with a system that’s being managed by people, it makes for a more complicated story.”

Besides climate, researchers have most often attributed skyrocketing yields to technological advances, including mechanization, better crop genetics and pesticides and fertilizers. But after finding in a previous study of U.S. Department of Agriculture data that Midwest farmers put corn into the ground much earlier now, Kucharik began pondering the possible impact of this unexpected shift.

“I thought, if farmers are planting earlier, that means they’re extending the growth period of crops – the amount of time plants have to be photosynthesizing, piling on biomass and making grain,” Kucharik says. “So it made sense to me that this would have contributed in some way to the yield gains we’ve seen over past decades.”

His hypothesis turns out to be true – in part. In Iowa, for example, earlier planting dates and longer growing seasons have potentially contributed 53 percent of the statewide yield gains over the past 30 years, Kucharik found. In Wisconsin, that number is 22 percent, and it ranges between 19 to 31 percent in other northern states.

Yet, even though southern Corn Belt states sow seeds even sooner than their more northerly neighbors, Kucharik saw no relationship in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio between planting dates and yield.

“There was definitely a split – not all of the states showed this relationship,” says Kucharik. “But for the ones that did, it made sense that they were the ones more likely to benefit from an extension of the growing season” and a switch to longer-season hybrids.

He explains that because southern farmers have been planting long-season, high-yield corn hybrids for decades, expanding the growing season by another two weeks likely offers little advantage. Shorter growing seasons in the north, on the other hand, have historically limited farmers there to short- or mid-season hybrids that produce less grain.

Whether the trend toward earlier planting can continue is another matter, says Kucharik. Northern farmers will eventually hit up against frozen ground and other wintry conditions that will be impossible to overcome.

“Especially as we’re going through this transition of using corn as the initial feedstock for biofuels, are we thinking that this trend in yields is going to continue indefinitely"” he asks. “If planting earlier does contribute significantly in some regions, eventually that effect will wear itself out.”

Chris Kucharik | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.wisc.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht New gene for atrazine resistance identified in waterhemp
24.02.2017 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

nachricht Researchers discover a new link to fight billion-dollar threat to soybean production
14.02.2017 | University of Missouri-Columbia

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Safe glide at total engine failure with ELA-inside

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded after a glide flight with an Airbus A320 in ditching on the Hudson River. All 155 people on board were saved.

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded...

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New technology offers fast peptide synthesis

28.02.2017 | Life Sciences

WSU research advances energy savings for oil, gas industries

28.02.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Who can find the fish that makes the best sound?

28.02.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>