Improving microclimate pays
The logic Chuck Kupatt lays out is simple. The big opportunity to increase crop yields is in helping plants control the unpredictable. Determine how to help them better survive the stresses of the environment, such as temperatures and moisture, and your crop yield should increase.
There are already good solutions for controlling stresses such as insects, diseases and weeds. What’s tougher is helping the machinery inside the carbohydrate factory of each plant perform efficiently when it’s too hot or too dry.
• The microclimate around plants plays a big part in their final yield.
• Company called CMM seeks solutions outside of biotech improvements.
• More research is needed in the U.S. on this idea.
Kupatt is chief technology officer for a company called Crop Microclimate Management Inc., known as CMM Inc. So far, the company has targeted high-value crops, mostly outside the U.S. It’s beginning to work in high-value crops in the key growing regions for specialty crops in the U.S., such as California. At the same time, it’s experimenting with G-3, a product that could benefit row crops. That type of product is likely at least a couple of years away.
Several large companies are working feverishly to produce crops that better withstand drought. Kupatt contends relying on biotech to solve every problem may not be practical.
“Most companies now say that even with drought-tolerant corn, you’re looking at 10% improvement in yield,” he says. “That’s important, but it’s not a full answer.”
Multiple genes control how plants respond to many external stresses, Kupatt notes. That’s why the breeding process can stretch over several years.
Plant physiology solutions
Much of what CMM does promotes the most photosynthesis possible inside plants. “When it gets above 85 degrees F, carbohydrate production drops off,” he explains. “At some level photosynthesis stops, and no carbohydrate is produced. If you’re dealing with fruit crops, including tomatoes, the result may be smaller fruit and less fruit.”
Photosynthesis decreases as temperature in the plant increases. Less carbon dioxide is captured, and light collected by plant cells produces free radicals. They can damage leaf tissue. Plants use carbohydrate to repair this damage at night, he notes.
CMM markets Screen and Screen Duo for high-value crops. They contain kaolin. These products help reflect radiation, reducing stress, and keep plants cooler. Screen Duo activates enzymes that help plants rectify problems caused by extreme heat.
Researchers overseas have documented what these products do in tomatoes, grapes and even oranges. As a small company, it’s difficult to support expensive research at U.S. universities, Kupatt says. That doesn’t mean the concept doesn’t work.
Eye on row crops
The new technology CMM is pursuing for crops like corn doesn’t affect photosynthesis directly. It uses a different concept, Kupatt says, to provide the same effect of keeping plants efficient.
“It’s exciting because a G-3 type product could be applied at low-use rates and bring protection from the environmental factors we can’t control,” he says. “It’s something we certainly intend to pursue for the future.”
This article published in the July, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.