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Agronomy Day 2009

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Tour B

SoyFACE - Adapting Illinois Crops to Global Change

Elizabeth Ainsworth
Elizabeth Ainsworth
Assistant Professor
Departments of Plant Biology and of Crop Sciences
(217) 265-9887
ainswort@illinois.edu

Adaptation to climate change is one of the most important challenges facing agriculture in this century.  The U.S. will face rising temperatures, increasing drought stress, increased ground-level ozone pollution and rising carbon dioxide concentrations throughout this century.  Adapting crops to these global changes will be critical to maintaining and improving agricultural productivity in the coming decades.

Image of an elevated carbon dioxide plot at the soyFACE facility. The lower panel shows a thermal image of an elevated carbon dioxide plot where decreased water use increases the temperature of soybean canopy.Image of an elevated carbon dioxide plot at the soyFACE facility. The lower panel shows a thermal image of an elevated carbon dioxide plot where decreased water use increases the temperature of soybean canopy.

The Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment (SoyFACE) experiment orchestrates a coordinated and comprehensive investigation of the impact of atmospheric change on the soybean-maize agroecosystem.  The experiment began in 2001, and investigates the response of soybean to rising carbon dioxide and ozone concentrations expected for 2050. This year (2009) the experiment is also investigating the interactions of rising carbon dioxide with rising temperature and increasing drought stress.  The FACE design allows for open air fumigation of soybean with carbon dioxide and ozone; infrared heaters are used to increase the crop temperature by 3.5 ºC and retractable awnings are used to intercept rainfall at night.

Experiments at SoyFACE have investigated the response of the soybean agro-ecosystem to global change from the molecular to the agronomic levels.  Elevated carbon dioxide has positive effects on soybean growth and seed yield, despite negatively affecting harvest index.  Elevated carbon dioxide concentration also decreases soybean water use, which warms the canopy.  In addition, soybeans are more susceptible to herbivory when grown at elevated carbon dioxide concentration.  In contrast to elevated carbon dioxide, elevated ozone has net negative effects on soybean production, causing ~20% reduction in seed yield.  This is concerning because current levels of ozone already cost Midwest farmers $0.6-1.0 billion in potential yields.  Therefore, identifying ozone tolerant germplasm is a critical need.

The next phase of the SoyFACE experiment is aimed at understanding how elevated carbon dioxide will interact with rising temperatures and drought stress, and a major goal of this phase is to identify ways to improve germplasm for production under future conditions.

change and challenge