Annually, diseases, weeds, and insects are estimated to cause more than $1.3 billion in losses for sunflower growers. To combat this, researchers are preserving the genetic diversity of wild sunflowers. Wild plants retain the genes needed to resist pests and survive in different environments.
A group of researchers at the University of Illinois wanted to know which farmers are most likely to adopt multifunctional perennial cropping (MPC) systems – trees, shrubs, or grasses that simultaneously benefit the environment and generate high-value products that can be harvested for a profit.
"We surveyed farmers in the Upper Sangamon River Watershed in Illinois to learn their attitudes about growing MPCs on marginal land. We then looked at their demographic data to classify people into different categories related to their adoption potential," says University of Illinois agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell.
Using statistical clustering techniques, the team discovered that survey respondents fell into six categories. The "educated networkers" and "young innovators" were most likely to adopt MPCs. On the other end of the spectrum, survey respondents classified as "money motivated" and "hands-off" were least likely to adopt the new cropping systems.
The goal of categorizing farmers was to tailor strategies for each group, given their general attitudes. "If they're very unlikely to adopt at all, we probably wouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about those groups," Lovell explains.
However, Lovell thinks some low-likelihood adopters could be swayed. "One of the groups--the one we called "money motivated" – was really connected with GPS in their yield monitoring, so we thought we could target that. We could review high-resolution maps of their farms to point out the areas that are unproductive for corn and soybeans. We'd try to make the case that alternative perennial systems could bring in profits," Lovell says.
High-likelihood adopters were motivated by environmental concerns, and were especially interested in converting marginal land to bioenergy crop, hay, or nut production systems. "Farmers were probably most familiar with bioenergy grasses and hay," Lovell explains. But it was important to them that an existing market was in place for MPCs products.
Another major factor was land tenancy. Considering that most MPC crops don't mature for years after planting, rental contracts would need to account for the long-term investment.
"The person leasing the land might be really interested in agroforestry or perennial cropping systems," Lovell says. "The lease arrangement has to be long enough that the farmer will get back their investment in that period. For example, some of the nut crops take a long time to mature. But if you integrate some of the fruit shrubs, they'll become productive in maybe 3-4 years. You could get an earlier return on investment in those cases."
Lovell's graduate students – housed in the crop sciences department at U of I – are now following up with several of the farmers who were interested in MPCs and offering custom designs to establish the new cropping systems on their land.
"That was part of the overall goal for this study. We wondered if the barrier to adoption is a lack of information about design options and the economic potential," Lovell says. "If we overcome that barrier by developing good planting plans, projecting the market economics, and providing them with that information, will that help them implement the change?"
Researchers tested the effects of increased CO2 and warmer temperatures on plant water use. Although increased carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures generally improve photosynthesis, in these experiments the researchers found that pores on plant leaves, known as the stomata, were predicted to narrow in these conditions, reducing the amount of moisture plants release into the air.
Although this change may mean some plants are more efficient in their water use in some arid regions, overall this change in plant physiology will have its own climate effects, resulting in less rainfall in some regions, damaging plants and crop yields, says Qianlai Zhuang, professor of earth and atmospheric science at Purdue University.
“This study reveals that while increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide can directly strengthen plant uptake of CO2, it can also reduce plant transpiration, influence global precipitation patterns, and increase warming locally,” he says.
In many terrestrial ecosystems, precipitation is from water recycled to the atmosphere by plants upwind, affecting both precipitation and temperatures, says coauthor Lisa Welp, assistant professor of biogeochemistry in the department of earth, atmospheric, and planetary Sciences.
“The role that terrestrial vegetation plays in rainfall recycling on land is often simplified or overlooked, but it’s a key player in determining regional precipitation patterns and, therefore, productivity in water-limited ecosystems,” Welp says.
“If some plants reduce their transfer of water to the atmosphere by reducing transpiration rates, this results in regional declines in precipitation. It also results in local heating because evaporating water from plant leaves acts like an air conditioner, keeping surface temperatures cooler.”
Overall, the effect is strong enough that there is no net increase in global agricultural production, Zhuang says. In fact, as carbon dioxide increases globally, the modeling showed that plant life in most regions of the world suffers considerably due to rising temperatures and decreased precipitation.
“You cannot look at just one effect in isolation, such as photosynthesis, and make a determination of how it will affect global crop production,” Zhuang says. “There are both direct and indirect effects, and both should be considered.”
Atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from 280 parts per million before the Industrial Age, which began in the late 1700s, to the current level above 400 parts per million.
Zhuang and graduate student Peng Zhu devised six model experiments using historic climate data from 1850 to 2011. They found that although a few areas would see improved plant growth – including parts of Canada, most of Madagascar, and the southern tip of India – other regions on the planet would suffer.
“This study indicates that the net CO2 fertilization effect will be overestimated unless vegetation-climate feedback effects are taken into account,” Zhu says.
Only three plant species -- rice, wheat, and maize -- account for most of the plant matter that humans consume, partly because of the mutations that made these crops the easiest to harvest. But with CRISPR technology, we don't have to wait for nature to help us domesticate plants, argue researchers.
Some scientists say the solution could lie in crops' DNA and are making “gene catalogs” to help farmers grow healthier produce that can withstand climate change. | READ MORE
The interdisciplinary team, led by Jonathan Lynch, distinguished professor of plant nutrition, will combine a suite of technologies designed to identify phenotypes and genes related to desirable root traits, with the goal of enhancing the breeding of crop varieties better adapted for nitrogen and water acquisition and carbon sequestration.
The project is part of ARPA-E's Rhizosphere Observations Optimizing Terrestrial Sequestration, or ROOTS, program, which is aimed at developing crops that enable a 50 percent increase in carbon deposition depth and accumulation, while also reducing nitrous oxide emissions by 50 percent and increasing water productivity by 25 percent.
The ROOTS program website explains that while advances in technology have resulted in a tenfold increase in crop productivity over the past century, soil quality has declined, leading to a soil carbon debt equivalent to 65 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This soil carbon debt increases the need for costly nitrogen fertilizer, which has become the primary source of emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. The soil carbon debt also impacts crop water use, increasing susceptibility to drought stress, which threatens future productivity.
Given the scale of domestic and global agriculture, there is tremendous potential to reverse these trends by harnessing the photosynthetic bridge between atmospheric carbon, plants, microbes and soil. Advanced root systems that increase soil organic matter can improve soil structure, fertilizer use efficiency, water productivity, crop yield and climate resilience, while mitigating topsoil erosion – all of which provide near-term and sustained economic value. | READ MORE
New South Wales (Australia) Department of Primary Industries senior principal research scientist, Harsh Raman, said the study has unlocked the genetic make-up of canola to characterize major and minor genes resistant to the fungal pathogen Leptosphaeria maculans, which causes blackleg disease. | READ MORE
“Currently, sugarcane and sweet sorghum produce sugar that may be converted to ethanol,” said co-lead author Stephen Long, Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. “Our goal is to alter the plants' metabolism so that it converts this sugar in the stem to oil – raising the levels in current cultivars from 0.05 per cent oil, not enough to convert to biodiesel, to the theoretical maximum of 20 per cent oil. With 20 per cent oil, the plant's sugar stores used for ethanol production would be replaced with more valuable and energy dense oil used to produce biodiesel or jet fuel.”
A paper published in Industrial Biotechnology simulated the profitability of Plants Engineered to Replace Oil in Sugarcane and Sweet Sorghum (PETROSS) with 0 per cent, 5 per cent, 10 per cent, and 20 per cent oil. They found that growing sorghum in addition to sugarcane could keep biorefineries running for an additional two months, increasing production and revenue by 20-30 per cent. | READ MORE
Research leader Professor Neena Mitter said BioClay – an environmentally sustainable alternative to chemicals and pesticides – could be a game-changer for crop protection.
“Our disruptive research involves a spray of nano-sized degradable clay used to release double-stranded RNA, that protects plants from specific disease-causing pathogens,” she says.
The research, by scientists from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) and UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) is published in Nature Plants.
Professor Mitter said the technology reduced the use of pesticides without altering the genome of the plants.
Once BioClay is applied, the plant ‘thinks’ it is being attacked by a disease or pest insect and responds by protecting itself from the targeted pest or disease.
“A single spray of BioClay protects the plant and then degrades, reducing the risk to the environment or human health.”
She said BioClay met consumer demands for sustainable crop protection and residue-free produce.
“Research in agriculture is the key to maintaining a competitive edge, and that’s why the federal government, in partnership with provinces and agriculture organizations, invests in research," MacAulay said. "These millions of dollars invested into crops research in Saskatchewan over the years will help create growth and put more money in the pockets of farmers within the sector."
The 46 projects receiving funding this year include research on:
· Improving plant breeding technology specifically to test for DON toxins that are the result of Fusarium head blight infection in wheat.
· Optimizing loss-sensing technology on farm equipment to minimize losses at harvest.
· Development of a pulse-based replacement for shortening that can be used in baked goods, to name a few.
The ADF announcement leverages significant funding from industry partners, on top of government funding. A total of almost $3.7 million is being committed from partner organizations that include Western Grains Research Foundation, SaskPulse, SaskCanola, SaskFlax, Sask Wheat and Alberta Wheat Commission.
ADF funding is part of the $26.8 million the Government of Saskatchewan committed to agriculture research for 2016-17. Funding for ADF projects is provided under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.
For more information, and to see a complete list of funded projects, visit saskatchewan.ca
Plant geneticist Harold Trick said the university has received a patent for the technology that “silences” specific genes in the nematode, causing it to die or, at the least, lose the ability to reproduce.
“We have created genetically engineered vectors [or DNA molecules], and put those into soybeans so that when the nematodes feed on the roots of the soybeans, they ingest these small molecules,” said Trick, who has worked closely with plant pathologist Tim Todd on this project.
So far, the scientists have found the technology has reduced the nematode population in greenhouse studies by as much as 85 percent. | READ MORE
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Royal Manitoba Winter FairMon Mar 27, 2017
Employee Selection WebinarMon Mar 27, 2017 @10:00am -
Cultivating the Great Clay Belt Agriculture SymposiumThu Mar 30, 2017
Hiring Employees WebinarMon Apr 03, 2017 @10:00am -
Spring Workshop on Organic ResearchFri Apr 07, 2017 @ 8:30am - 04:00pm