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Crop Biotech Update

Research Shows Farmer Adjustments Offset Impact of Climate Change on Corn Production

November 14, 2018

Concern that global warming will have a strong negative effect on crop yields were widespread. Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on historical maize yields across the U.S. Corn Belt suggests that a continuation of the historical yield trend will depend on a stable climate and continued farmer adjustments.

The research, conducted by Ethan Butler, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Forest Resources in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota and his colleagues from Harvard University and University of California, Irvine, analyzes how both climate and management have influenced the increase in yields. Overall, the research shows farmers have adapted to historical climate change. The combination of changes in climate, primarily cooling of the hottest temperatures, and farmer adjustments, including earlier planting and planting longer maturing varieties, increased maize yield trends since 1981 by 28 percent.

The researchers used a statistical model to study how rainfed maize yields reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are affected by temperature using three crop development phases: vegetative, early grain filling, and late grain filling. They found that planting is occurring earlier and that the late grain filling phase lasts longer. At the same time, the hottest temperatures have cooled. The earlier planting and longer grain filling are primarily associated with management decisions, while the cooling of hot temperatures appears to be an unintended benefit of widespread planting of high-yielding modern cultivars.

For more details, read the news article from the University of Minnesota.