Modeling the future of soybeans in the Midwest

How will the rising temperatures expected to occur with global climate change affect soybean growth in the Midwest? Rather than wait and see, researchers at the University of Illinois will use real crop data and computer modeling to better predict future impacts of higher temperatures on agricultural production and identify promising targets for adaptation.

The project is being funded with a $420,000 USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture grant. U of I environmental scientist Kaiyu Guan is the project director. Carl Bernacchi and Elizabeth Ainsworth are co-project directors. Both are plant physiologists in the U of I Department of Plant Biology and Department of Crop Sciences.

The project will look at how temperature affects major plant processes such as photosynthesis and respiration.

“Higher temperatures in the future may result in accelerated crop growth rate and shorter growing seasons,” Guan said. “There will likely be direct heat stress effects on the various stages in plant reproduction, including number of flowers and pods produced and aborted and the higher temps may increase the plants’ demand for water. All of these factors will play a role in soybean crop yield.”

Guan says the team will combine the temperature free-air controlled enhancement (T-FACE) experiment and a newly developed crop modeling framework (CLM-APSIM).  Infrared heating arrays will be used to heat three soybean varieties, representing the major groups planted across the Midwest for two growing seasons, and multiple physiological and biochemical measurements will be taken simultaneously.

“We will then use the experiment results to improve and calibrate the model at the site level,” Guan said. “Using the calibrated model, we will attribute the historical yield loss due to increase temperature to different physiological mechanisms. Ultimately, we will project crop yield for the whole Corn Belt under the various climate scenarios, and quantify the contribution of each mechanism.”

In addition to being an assistant professor in ecohydrology and geoinformatics in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I, Guan has a joint appointment as a Blue Waters professor affiliated with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).

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