New management approaches and technology have allowed the U.S. Corn Belt to increase yields despite some changes in climate.
However, soil sensitivity to drought has increased significantly, according to a new study that could help identify ways to reverse the trend.
Like a baseball slugger whose home run totals rise despite missing more curveballs each season, the U.S. Corn Belt’s prodigious output conceals a growing vulnerability. A new Stanford study reveals that while yields have increased overall – likely due to new technologies and management approaches – the staple crop has become significantly more sensitive to drought conditions. The research, published Oct. 26 in Nature Food, uses a novel approach based on wide differences in the moisture-holding capabilities among soils. The analysis could help lay the groundwork for speeding development of approaches to increase agricultural resilience to climate change.
“The good news is that new technologies are really helping to raise yields, in all types of weather conditions,” said study lead author David Lobell, the Gloria and Richard Kushel Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. “The bad news is that these technologies, which include some specifically designed to withstand drought, are so helpful in good conditions that the cost of bad conditions are rising. So there’s no sign yet that they will help reduce the cost of climate change.”
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