ScienceDaily: 30 years of data analyzed on four major crops

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New research suggests that the soil’s water holding capacity will play a critical role in determining how well certain regions of the United States are able to manage heat stress caused by climate change. The journalFrontiers in Sustainable Food SystemsThe finding was based upon 30 years of data on four U.S. crops: wheat, soybeans, cotton, and wheat.

Debjani Sihi is the first author of the study, and an assistant professor at Emory University’s Department of Environmental Sciences.

Sihi, a biogeochemist, studies sustainability and soil issues at the intersection of climate, policy, health, and soil.

Sihi, along with her co-authors, estimates that global undernutrition was 750 million. This is due to climate change. The problem of global food insecurity is likely to get worse. Climate change is expected to cause a 25% drop in world crop yields over the next 25 year. However, global food production must double by 2050 to meet projected human population growth.

Sihi states that soil health is an essential component of adapting to climate change.

She explains that healthy soil is rich in microbes, which provide nutrients for plants that are healthy. They also make plant foods more nutritious. These microbes improve soil’s ability for carbon sequestration. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), the top 30 centimeters contain twice as much carbon than the entire atmosphere. Soil is the second largest natural carbon sink after the oceans.

However, rising temperatures are causing soil moisture to drop in some areas. This can affect crop production as well as degrading soil over the long-term.

Researchers sought to quantify the long term impact of climate and soil characteristics on the yields of wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton, and cotton in the United States. The data was compiled from the U.S. Department of Agriculture county-level data, which dates back to 1981. The dataset included precipitation rates as well as average daily temperatures during a crop’s growing seasons, also known collectively as growing-degree days. Data also included soil variations such as water-holding capacity, organic material texture (the percentages of sand and silt), Ph, slope and soil-loss tolerance.

To assess the effects of each climate and soil variable on crop yields, the researchers used machine-learning to explain their findings.

The most important climatic factors and soil properties for crop-yield variability were identified as growing-degree days and water holding capacity.

Sihi states that the take-home message is that farmers in areas with increased heat stress may want to focus on their soil’s water-holding ability.

She explained that clay soil and soil richer in organic material retain water better than soil. For farms with sandy soil or soils that are less rich in organic material, you might want to add additional amendments to improve water-holding ability. To reduce evaporation, another option is to add more mulch.

Researchers hope their findings will be useful to farmers, land-management experts, and policy makers who are trying to make decisions about sustainable, long-term crop, soil, and water management.

Kanad Basu and Abraham Peedikayil Kuruvila of the University of Texas at Dallas are co-authors of this study, as is Biswanath dari of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Gaurav Jha of Montana State University.

Emory University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Montana State University provided funding for the project.

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MaterialsProvided by Emory University. Carol Clark wrote the original. Notice: Style and length may be changed.

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