The USDA's Agricultural Research Service team is conducting a study on global climate change and its impact on crops. They're looking at the effects of what they predict will be the future climate on corn and soybean rotation. While the team's study has shown that elevated carbon levels would increase crop yields by 2050, University of Illinois Crop Science Professor Don Ort, the lead researcher for the study, says the increase would only be half of the United Nation's models.
"The one element of global change that's anticipated to benefit agriculture is the increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere," Ort said. "What photosynthesis does is take CO2 and energy from sunlight and uses it to make carbohydrate, which is the building block of everything in plant life. So this increase in CO2 concentration just gives more of this starting substance from which photosynthesis carries on to make biomass and to make yield."
Ort says studies indicated a 30% increase in crop yields could be expected. But in the field, under real agriculture conditions, he says the increase in productivity is between 12 and 15%. So according to Ort the amount of that benefit is approximately half of what they had expected from earlier enclosures.
"We now have proof of concept and what we really need to do is scale from hundreds of square meters under treatment to acres and hectares being under treatment," Ort said. "So that we can begin to do really proper selection-based breeding for traits that will make crops respond and adapt to what we expect global change is going to be."
In order to do this Ort says it is going to take an integrated enterprise between the private and public sector.
"The public sector certainly has the science," Ort said. "But we certainly need the private sector from the standpoint of how do we get these traits translated most quickly from these kinds of experiments into seeds and the farmer's field."