The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $2,044,214 grant to Iowa State University to evaluate how maize breeding, field management and environment affect sustainable corn production. Iowa State University and Bayer Crop Science provided matching funds for a $4,089,857 total investment. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Purdue University and Donald Danforth Plant Science Center are also supporting this project.
Maize breeding programs have increased corn yields over the years by altering plant characteristics (traits). Yet, our knowledge on which traits have been changed is limited and their impact on sustainability is relatively unknown. These traits are important aspects of crop models, which predict yields and sustainability trajectories. The lack of this information about characteristics compromises our ability to accurately predict how this vital crop will fare in the face of climate change.
“To sustain a growing global population, we need current, accurate information about crop performance,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Evaluating the relationship between productivity and sustainability in our corn programs will enhance farmer profitability and resiliency while enhancing human health and well-being.”
Led by Dr. Sotirios Archontoulis, Iowa State University researchers are examining corn hybrid characteristics at an unprecedented scale to analyze yield trends in the US Corn Belt, which includes most of the Midwest.
Over the course of three years, researchers are collecting data from 40 locations per year, covering a range of environments and production situations across the Corn Belt. Using advanced analytics including simulation modeling and machine learning, researchers are evaluating plant, root, grain and resource use efficiency traits. This analysis will help researchers determine the impact of plant breeding on sustainability and rank the importance of different plant traits with respect to production and sustainability. Additionally, this research can help predict future yield trends and environmental outcomes under a range of scenarios including changes in weather, management and genetics.
Researchers will provide plant breeders with science-based information to select traits that improve productivity and long-term profitability. This research supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals that aim to increase productivity with less environmental impact.
“This project aims to fill major knowledge gaps such as impacts of plant breeding on sustainability and will increase our ability to predict future yields and environmental impacts. It is the first whole-plant system (from roots to grain) era study at that scale,” said Dr. Sotirios Archontoulis.
“As communities continue to fight poverty, hunger and malnutrition, there has never been a more important time for innovation in agriculture. At Bayer, we are pleased contribute to uncovering new insights on the interactions between maize genetics and the environment. Utilizing the collective knowledge of many experts in maize breeding, this project will lead to greater understanding of sustainability and yield trends for climate change adaptation,” said Mike Graham, Head of Breeding, Bayer Crop Science.
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