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Click here to see this online
 
 
 

Crop Sciences

 
 
 
 

September 2021

 
 
 
 
 

CPSC in the News

 
 
 
 
 
 

Seven new faculty members joined ACES in the past year. Their expertise will add to the existing strengths in several academic departments and units, as well as University of Illinois Extension, a key part of the college.

 “We’re delighted to welcome talented individuals to the College of ACES and Illinois Extension. They bring exceptional skills and expertise to teaching, research and outreach that will help us move forward and address critical challenges facing our world,” says Anna Ball, ACES associate dean of academic programs.

Among these new faculty members is Emily Heaton, joining the Department of Crop Sciences as professor of regenerative agriculture, Extension specialist, and director of the Illinois Regenerative Agriculture Initiative (IRAI). Read more here.

 
 
 
 

Cover crops are widely seen as one of the most promising conservation practices, improving soil health while also removing carbon from the atmosphere. But while the number of Midwestern farmers planting cover crops has increased markedly in recent years, 2017 USDA Census data show only about 5% have adopted the conservation practice. The reluctance of the other 95% may be due, in part, to a perception that cover crops require more effort and may also negatively affect summer cash crop yield.

New University of Illinois research integrates field data and advanced mathematical modeling to understand how cover crops affect soil water, nitrogen, and oxygen dynamics, and may compete with summer cash crops.

“Cover cropping requires management. Otherwise cover crops compete with corn and soybean and can cause some yield loss. With proper management, however, farmers could use the right cover crop types and find the optimal growth window to plant and terminate cover crops to achieve benefits and minimize negative impacts on cash crops,” says Kaiyu Guan, founding director of the Agroecosystem Sustainability Center, associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, and Blue Waters professor at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. He is also senior author on a new paper published in Field Crops Research.

Guan’s insights are based on a sophisticated mathematical model validated by five years of experimental field data collected from multiple sites across Illinois by Maria Villamil, a co-author of the paper and professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois. The process-based model aims to identify the underlying drivers of cover crop effects on cash crop yield, including cover crop type; termination timing; and soil factors such as water, nitrogen, oxygen, and soil temperature. Read more here.

 
 
Study authors Marty Williams, left, an ecologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service and affiliate faculty in the Department of Crop Sciences; and Aaron Hager, associate professor and faculty extension specialist in crop sciences  
 

By the end of the century, scientists expect climate change to reduce corn yield significantly, with some estimating losses up to 28%. But those calculations are missing a key factor that could drag corn yields down even further: weeds.

Wetter springs and hotter, drier summers, already becoming the norm in the Corn Belt, put stress on corn during key reproductive stages, including silking and grain fill. But those same weather conditions can benefit the scrappy weeds that thrive in tough environments.

“Adverse weather and weeds are two stressors to crop production, but there's been very little research into how the combination of those two factors influence crop yield. Computer models projecting corn yields into the future are assuming weed-free conditions,” says Marty Williams, USDA-Agricultural Research Service ecologist, CPSC affiliate professor, and co-author on a new study in Global Change Biology. “That's unlikely to be the case without a major transformation in the way we manage weeds.”

Complete weed control is rarely achieved in practice, especially considering herbicides – the single most common tool used to destroy weeds – are losing ground to resistant weeds. Several important weed species, including waterhemp and Palmer amaranth, can shrug off multiple herbicide modes of action. And with no new classes of herbicides nearing commercialization in corn, the prospects for chemical control continue to dim for resistant weeds.

Yet, late-season control of weeds such as waterhemp was the most important factor impacting corn yield; bigger than any management practice or weather-related factor.

To arrive at that conclusion, the research team, which includes U of I crop scientists Christopher Landau and Aaron Hager, analyzed 27 years of herbicide evaluation trials representing more than 200 unique weather environments throughout Illinois.

“When ag researchers want to look at weather variation and crop yield in a controlled manner, generally that’s one experiment in two or three environments. If it's a big study, that might amount to six or eight environments,” Williams says. “Our analysis enabled us to look at a historic data set where there were hundreds of environments. That's the real beauty of it.” Read more here.

 
 
 
 

Events

 
 
 
 
 
 

We are proud to announce that registration is now open for the 2021 UIUC Plant Sciences Virtual Symposium on October 15th from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. This year, the symposium theme is “From Home to Biome: The Myriad of Plant Relationships.” This symposium will explore the many relationships between plants and people and showcase researchers investigating plant interactions, whether it be addressing interactions with diseases, environment, insects, other plants, or society. 

 
 
 
 

Awards & Accomplishments

 
 
 
 
Members of the Illinois CROPPS team. From left: Stephen Moose, crop sciences; Cabral Bigman-Galimore, communication; Vikram Adve, computer science; German Bollero, crop sciences; and Anthony Studer, crop sciences  
 

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today an investment of $25 million to launch the Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems (CROPPS). The center, a partnership among UIUC, Cornell University, the Boyce Thompson Institute, and the University of Arizona, aims to develop tools to listen and talk to plants and their associated organisms.

“CROPPS will create systems where plants communicate their hidden biology to sensors, optimizing plant growth to the local environment. This Internet of Living Things (IoLT) will enable breakthrough discoveries, offer new educational opportunities, and open transformative opportunities for productive, sustainable, and profitable management of crops,” says Steve Moose, the grant’s principal investigator at Illinois. Moose is a genomics professor in the Crop Sciences department.

Additional Illinois faculty participating in CROPPS include Cabral Bigman-Galimore, Department of Communication; Romit Roy Choudhury, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Girish Chowdhary, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Department of Computer Science; Matt Hudson, Department of Crop Sciences; Meagan Lang, National Center for Supercomputing Applications; Amy Marshall-Colon, Department of Plant Biology; Tony Studer, Department of Crop Sciences; and Lav Varshney, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Read more here.

 
 
Dr. Carrie Northcott  
 
CPSC Alumni Awarded 2021 Pfizer Breakthrough Science and Innovation Prize

Congratulations to CPSC alumni Carrie Northcott who was awarded the 2021 Pfizer Breakthrough Science and Innovation award, which includes a $25,000 prize. Dr. Northcott majored in Crop Sciences but has since made a big footprint within the pharmaceutical industry. She is Director/ Project Lead within Digital Medicine and Translational Imaging (DMTI), Early Clinical Development (ECD) at Pfizer. Dr. Northcott is one of the global leaders in Digital Medicine and DMTI and this award seals her place as a leader in the pharm industry.

 
 
  Dr. Santiago Mideros
 

Congratulations to Dr. Santiago Mideros on being a newly funded PI with the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. His projects focus on aggressiveness and fungicide sensitivity of Fusarium graminearum and integrated management and are funded under the Pathogen Biology and FHB management categories of the RFP.

"In my laboratory at the University of Illinois, we develop precision disease management techniques for significant diseases of field crops. A fundamental knowledge gap exists about the timely detection and characterization of variants of pathogens of field crops. Thus, one of the areas of focus for my laboratory is to collect and study pathogen strains across Illinois. We study these strains, their diversity, and the drivers of this diversity," said Dr. Mideros in an interview with the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative. Read more here.

 
 
 
 
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