U of MN Extension thinks aggressive weed has reached Minnesota

By Steve Karnowski, Associated Press

http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/09/22/palmer-amarant-in-minnesota

An aggressive southern weed called Palmer amaranth apparently has turned up in Minnesota for the first time, University of Minnesota Extension experts said Wednesday.

Palmer amaranth has been spreading northward in recent years from the south, where it’s been a frustrating scourge for farmers. The weed can shoot up as high as 7 feet, and just one plant can produce 500,000 to 1 million tiny seeds. Herbicide is increasingly futile against it, and the weed’s thick stems and deep roots make it hard to kill by hand. It has already turned up in Iowa, Wisconsin and South Dakota.

Integrated pest management specialist Bruce Potter said he saw it Tuesday after a crop consultant spotted suspected Palmer amaranth in a field in Yellow Medicine County in western Minnesota and gave him a call.

Extension agronomist Jeff Gunsolus said he was waiting to receive a plant sample Friday before officially confirming the finding, but he said he’s confident it’s Palmer amaranth. He said he decided to put out the information now so that farmers can check their fields before they get busy with the fall harvest.

“I know what it looks like. I’ve been in Tennessee. I’ve been in Arkansas. I’ve seen the plant. This is pretty definitive,” Gunsolus said.

They think some seeds for the dreaded weed were in a native seed mixture that was planted in the field to benefit pollinators. Minnesota Department of Agriculture officials will be looking into whether the same seed mixture was planted elsewhere, Gunsolus said.

Gunsolus declined to identify the farm where the weed was found. He said there were just a couple plants and there’s no need at this point to treat the field with herbicides. He said mowing should be sufficient and that competition from the native plant cover should help keep it from spreading much. Corn and soybean fields are mostly bare in comparison, he said, and that allows the weed to grow much more quickly in them.

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Western Federal Lands Roadside Revegetation Handbook updated

The Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) has updated the Western Federal Lands Roadside Revegetation Handbook – expanding it for a nationwide audience including State Departments of Transportation and other transportation agencies. The next version is already in the works and is expected to be released some time next year. It will be an even more robust update with a companion native workhorse plant selector tool.

http://www.nativerevegetation.org/pdf/RoadsideReveg_PollinatorHabitat_DRAFTv1-1_sept2016.pdf

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NIFA announces specialty crop research grant pre-applications

The following grant opportunities were created, updated, or deleted on Grants.gov:Funding opportunity

USDA Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Specialty Crop Research Initiative Request for Pre-applications Synopsis 1

http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=289172

USDA NIFA

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University of Colorado seeks assistant professor

Evaluation of applicants will commence on Oct. 15, 2016 and proceed until the Job Opportunityposition is filled.

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder invites applications for a fungal biologist with an emphasis on ecology and/or evolution at the Assistant Professor (tenure track) level. We seek an individual with a strong background in fungal biology/mycology familiar with the range of approaches (including molecular methods) used to study fungi living in aquatic, terrestrial, or host-associated environments. Expertise could include, but is not limited to: fungal interactions with plant or animal hosts/symbionts, fungal disease ecology, fungal ecophysiology, fungal controls on ecosystem functioning, or fungal biodiversity and conservation.

The successful candidate will mentor and teach at graduate and undergraduate levels and develop an externally funded research program. We offer a collaborative, intellectually stimulating, and supportive environment in which a new professor can thrive. For further information about the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology seehttp://ebio.colorado.edu To apply, please collate the following into a single pdf file: cover letter, curriculum vitae, a list of at least three references and their contact information, and no more than five pages total on research, mentoring, and teaching.

Application materials are accepted electronically at https://www.jobsatcu.com  job #06667

 

 

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Soybean rust confirmed in Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas and more

USDA Soybean Rust website announces soybean rust has been updated on the website.

For more information, please visit http://sbr.ipmpipe.org

United States Soybean Rust Commentary (updated: 09/23/16)
In recent days soybean rust has been confirmed for the first time this season in Kentucky, Illinois, and Arkansas. In addition, in one additional county in Tennessee and another county in South Carolina have reported rust. Soybean rust has also been reported from 16 additional counties in Mississippi and one in Georgia.

SBR has been observed in 200 counties/parishes in the USA in 2016 including 80 counties in Mississippi, 37 counties in Alabama, 25 counties in Florida, 23 parishes in Louisiana, 23 counties in Georgia,4 counties in Texas, 3 in South Carolina, 2 in Tennessee, and one county each in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Illinois.

SBR was confirmed in 200 counties in the U.S. during 2015.

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 Senator Stabenow announces the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016

Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, announces that she will file the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016 sometime this week.

A brief summary of the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016 can be found at:

http://bit.ly/2d3qCkj

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EPA solicits proposals for a cooperative agreement for pesticide applicator education and training

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA’s) Office of Pesticide Programs is soliciting EPAapplications from eligible recipients to assist in carrying out pesticide applicator education and training activities. This work supports implementation of EPA’s Certification and Training Rule, which aims to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among handlers, applicators, bystanders and the public.

The cooperative agreement will provide financial assistance to an eligible applicant to equitably distribute funds to sub-recipients for pesticide applicator education and training on the safe use of pesticides. EPA expects to provide up to $1,500,000 the first year and $1,000,000 annually thereafter, depending on the agency’s budget, for a total of five years (2017 through 2021).

EPA’s Certification and Training Rule establishes rules and procedures as well as standards of competency for pesticide applicator certification. State pesticide regulatory agencies set certification requirements and administer the program. Pesticide Safety Education Programs educate and train persons to prepare for certification or to maintain existing certification. Since 1975, EPA has provided funding for pesticide applicator training and education activities. EPA’s goal is to protect people, ecosystems and the environment from the risk of pesticide-related illness and injury.

EPA must receive proposals through Grants.gov no later than 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Oct. 31, 2016. For more information on this Request for Proposals, visit opportunity number EPA-HQ-OPP-2016-001 at Grants.gov.

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The Making of a Farm Bill

Choices, (third quarter)

Stephanie Mercier

If you work on U.S. agricultural policy in Washington, D.C. for a long enough period, you learn two important rules of thumb. Rule No. 1: once a new farm bill is done, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will strongly resist any legislative changes to it, claiming it would jeopardize the bill’s delicate balance to ‘re-open it.’ Rule No. 2: as soon as that farm bill is fully implemented—if not sooner—stakeholder groups will start thinking about what changes they might like to be made the next time. Because of the first rule, over time the groups have learned they need to squirrel away their new policy ideas until the Committees commence their consideration of the new farm bill. Typically, that window opens around two years before the existing farm bill expires.  The Agricultural Act of 2014 expires on Sept. 30, 2018.

Even though recent farm bills have included between 10 to 15 separate titles, most of the public attention—both positive and negative—has focused on the titles which authorize and fund the programs which make up the farm safety net—the Commodity Title, usually Title I, and the Crop Insurance Title, which is a relatively recent addition to the farm bill pantheon. Stakeholder groups are actively engaged in trying to influence the final outcome of the farm bill debate by offering various proposals, especially for these two titles.

A Brief History of U.S. Farm Bills

The first farm bill, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, was enacted in 1933, in response to the economic hardships faced by U.S. farmers as a result of a pair of major catastrophes. The first was the Great Depression, which started after the U.S. stock market crashed in 1929 and the resulting softening of aggregate demand accelerated a slide in commodity prices that had started in the previous decade. The second was the Dust Bowl, which started in 1931, with drought and persistently high winds which initially picked up topsoil throughout the Southern Plains states, leading to severe yield declines of 50% or more for wheat and corn crops in states like Oklahoma and Kansas. The Dust Bowl persisted for eight long years, driving as many as 3.5 million people to abandon their farms and move to other parts of the country. Due to the confluence of these two disasters, it is estimated that per-capita income for farmers was only one-third that of the rest of the U.S. population in the 1930s (Mercier).

The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was aimed at boosting farm income by reducing the amount of agricultural commodities produced for the U.S. market. It paid farmers to withhold some of their land from cultivation so as to increase the prices that would be received for the crops. Also, each farmer was given the option of receiving loans for his crops from the federal government based on the established loan rates, with the crop itself serving as collateral. At the end of the loan period, the farmer could either repay the loan or forfeit the crop to the government if prevailing crop prices had fallen below the cost of repayment. The bill was 54 pages long, and had only two titles, ‘Agricultural Adjustment’ which included the commodity programs described above, and ‘Agricultural Credits’.

In later farm bills, a focus on land set-asides for conservation purposes was incorporated in the legislation in the 1950’s, with the establishment of the Soil Bank Program. In the 1973 Agricultural and Consumer Protection Act, the food stamp program was incorporated into a farm bill for the first time. This was the first farm bill to exceed 100 pages in length, coming in at 250 pages. The 1977 Act was the first that included a separate agricultural research title, although individual research provisions had appeared in earlier bills. The Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 was the first to consolidate all commodity program provisions into one title—in previous bills, dairy, wool and mohair, wheat and feed grains, cotton, rice, peanuts, soybeans, sugar, and general commodity provisions all had their own titles (Schertz and Doering). The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 added an energy title, and the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 added separate crop insurance and horticultural crop titles.

The addition of titles that incorporated new sets of policy issues over the years reflects two related phenomena: First, it reflects the recognition that farm policy needs to be about more than just producing more and more commodities, that is, the supply aspect. In order to balance the market, farm bills also need to address expanding or finding new outlets for the products, on the demand side. Second, it also reflects the fact that agricultural productivity gains and other socio-demographic factors over the decades increasingly had led to a shrinking of the area of the country where agriculture accounted for a significant share of economic activity.  Consequently, in order to maintain political support for farm bills, more policy issues were pulled in to garner and maintain interest in the legislation by both rural and urban members of Congress.

Since the first farm bill in 1933, there have been 16 more like it over the past eight plus decades, with a new one enacted every five years on average. The longest gap between two farm bills was nine years, between 1956 and 1965, and the shortest gap was one year, between 1948 and 1949. Most farm bill provisions are designed to expire at the end of a given bill, so as to give the House and Senate Agriculture Committees the impetus to re-examine the policies periodically in light of changes in market environments over the medium term. The Committees have also chosen to leave so-called permanent legislation, primarily the commodity provisions of the Agricultural Act of 1949, in place rather than repeal it, with their authority temporarily suspended for the term of that farm bill. This practice helps to create additional pressure to have a new farm bill in place when the old one expires, or at least be prepared to extend the old farm bill. If Congress failed to take either step, the programs from 1949 would kick back in.  Those programs would support key commodities at prices from more than 100 years ago, adjusted for inflation. For example, the so-called parity price for corn as of January 2016 was $13 per bushel, while the U.S. market price was about $3.70 per bushel.

Major Stakeholder Groups for the Commodity and Crop Insurance Titles

There are different organizations representing the political interests of producers of nearly every major and minor crop and livestock type in this country, plus a couple of general farm organizations which represent broad cross-sections of producers. It is not uncommon for farmers to belong to more than one farm or commodity group at the same time.  Chief among them in both numbers of farmers represented and in its ability to influence the farm bill process is the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). With organizations in every state—plus Puerto Rico—and in most of the nation’s 3,007 counties, AFBF reported its membership at about 5.9 million as of 2015. In policy terms, AFBF is viewed as a relatively mainstream organization by U.S. farmers in most regions of the country, who tend to be politically conservative and vote Republican. An Agri-Pulse Farm and Rural Poll taken right before the 2012 general election found that 78% of farmers planned to vote for the Republican presidential candidate.  The other main general farm organization, the National Farmers Union (NFU), is viewed as more politically liberal and has its core of support in a handful of Plains States such as North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, and Montana, although it has members in 33 states. NFU was established in 1902, and AFBF in 1919.

Table 1: Key Information on Major U.S. Farm and Commodity Groups

Figure 1

1NCC represents the entire cotton supply chain, not just growers.
2NMPF consists of member cooperatives, some of which cross state lines.

Also influential in the Farm Bill process are the groups which represent producers of the row crops who receive the bulk of the benefits from the commodity and crop insurance titles.  The largest groups—in terms of crop acreage harvested—include the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the American Soybean Association (ASA), the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), and the National Cotton Council (NCC) (Table 1). Within the livestock sector, only dairy farmers receive direct support from programs included in the commodity title. Their main national organization is the National Milk Producers Federation.   To the extent that other livestock groups engage in farm bill issues, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council, they tend to focus on programs in the conservation title which help pay for manure management and on trade promotion programs such as the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program in the trade title. After the federal crop insurance program was pulled into the farm bill process starting with the 2008 Farm Bill to make it easier to shift funding between the two safety net titles, organizations representing crop insurance companies and agents—which also employ agricultural economists—also became key stakeholder groups in the process as well. Prior to that bill, crop insurance had been addressed in separate legislation, since the underlying authority for the program does not expire periodically the way most other farm bill programs do. The 2014 Farm Bill, the latest in the series, contains 12 titles in 949 pages of legislative text.

Stakeholder Group Participation in the Farm Bill Process

The starting point for this process is that all the farm and commodity groups listed above share a basic viewpoint–that having a farm bill is a good thing, for their members and the country. Occasionally, groups which share a number of members in common will work together, such as NCGA and ASA working on a revenue program for the 2014 Farm Bill.  They also recognize that they need allies outside of production agriculture to keep the farm bill cycle going, which is why they joined nutrition advocacy groups in opposing the effort by conservative House Republicans in 2013 to split the nutrition programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), away from the rest of the farm bill. In March 2016, an informal coalition of 254 different local, state, and national organizations with interests in commodity programs, conservation, nutrition, agricultural research, rural development, agricultural credit, and crop insurance signed a joint letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Budget Committees and Appropriations Committees, calling on them to refrain from demanding cuts to farm bill programs as part of the fiscal 2017 budget process. These groups with disparate interests may sometimes fight over the pot of money available under the farm bill or over specific policy issues, but they all support its continuation.

For such groups, the initial steps they take in their own deliberations are typically two fold.  First, they solicit ideas from members on how perceived problems with the previous farm bill might be addressed, either informally at the state level or through member committees specifically assigned to such a task. For example, NCGA has a long-established Public Policy Action Team (PPAT), which currently consists of 15 grower members—members of state Corn Grower Boards—and several NCGA professional staff, charged with keeping an eye on federal agricultural policy and regulation on farm and risk management programs. The PPAT members regularly meet with federal policymakers and other thought leaders on agricultural policy to get a sense of how the range of policies and programs affect the corn sector.  Most of the organizations have professional staff at both the state and national levels who work to flesh out these ideas.

Once a menu of policy options has been generated, U.S. farm and commodity organizations typically follow one of two paths in determining their policy priorities for an upcoming farm bill debate. Most of the groups have annual state conventions late in the calendar year where policy ideas are proposed and voted on by delegates. Those proposals that gain support at the state level are then forwarded to the national headquarters of the organization and placed on the agenda for possible votes at the next national meeting. For example, the various state Farm Bureaus hold their annual meetings in November or December, and then AFBF holds its annual meeting in January after that.

The policy proposals considered at such meetings do not always focus solely on farm bill issues. The debate and votes on the lengthy list of policy resolutions typically occupy a full day at the AFBF annual meetings. For example, the list of issues considered by voting delegates to their 2007 annual meeting, held right at the beginning of the debate that ended with the 2008 farm bill, included the following:

  • the Countercyclical and Direct Payment Programs from the 2002 Farm Bill (support)
  • funding the next farm bill at 2002 levels (support)
  • non-trade-distorting assistance for specialty crop growers that would qualify as ‘Green Box’ under WTO rules on domestic support (support)
  • standing agricultural disaster assistance program(oppose)
  • comprehensive immigration reform, including an improved H2A guest worker visa program (support)
  • voluntary animal identification program (support)
  • voluntary country of origin labeling program (support)
  • regulation of agricultural dust under the Clean Air Act (oppose)
  • development of animal cloning (support).

Such a process is typical for U.S. farm and commodity groups as they seek to develop their own ideas of what should be included in the next farm bill. However, because the need to react to changing market conditions or implementation problems with farm programs does not always fit neatly into farm groups’ meeting calendars, most of them also have empowered their national leadership (Presidents and members of the Board of Directors) with the authority to endorse or reject new policy ideas on behalf of the organization on a more ad hoc basis.

For example, concerns about widely different payments for the 2014 crop year under the Agricultural Risk Coverage-county option (ARC-CO), even between adjacent counties in a state, were raised in early 2016. After consulting with Farm Service Agency (FSA) officials about the source of the discrepancy, farm groups realized that it stemmed from the fact that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) often had insufficient information on yields in counties outside core production areas to publish estimated county yields. For counties lacking such estimates, FSA was forced to rely instead upon estimates drawn from data collected by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), which created the discrepancies. This information became known to farm groups after their annual meetings. Since this issue was not addressed in the policy resolutions voted on at ASA’s annual meeting in March of 2016, the advice to their members to be more diligent in returning NASS surveys in order to improve the coverage of NASS county yields for soybeans had to be approved by the ASA Board instead.

Role of Agricultural Economists

Many of these groups ask professional agricultural economists, either employed within their organizations, as private consultants, or working at land grant universities, to take a look at the farm bill specific ideas generated within the membership—to vet them, flesh them out, and in many cases come up with preliminary estimates of the budget costs associated with the proposal and potential benefits their members would receive if the new policy were to be implemented. These analyses can either be requested near the beginning of the policy process, or after the basic policy concept is approved by the membership at the association’s annual meetings.

In addition, there are agricultural policy entities at a number of U.S. universities, such as the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri and Iowa State University, the Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) at Texas A&M University, and the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC) at the University of Tennessee, which have gathered together agricultural economists with specific expertise on a wide range of policy issues.  These groups are relied upon by both farm groups and the House and Senate Agriculture Committee staffs for providing objective, even-handed analyses of farm program proposals using similar methodologies to those used by U.S. government agencies.

Individual economists at other universities also engage in analyses which can impact on the farm bill process, some in favor of the existing array of policies as well as some work in opposition to those policies.  Some of this work is done on behalf of specific organizations, for example critiques of crop insurance programs for the Environmental Working Group (Babcock 2016), or for more general policy education purposes for both farmers and the public, such as the work done by several economists under the FarmDoc outreach effort at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Public Phase of the Farm Bill Process Begins

Economic analyses are usually released at the same time the farm or commodity organization floats its new policy ideas, to provide them with some economic justification for the proposed changes to the farm bill. The farm groups are then invited to provide witnesses to the hearings held early in the farm bill process by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, often either state presidents from that group or other prominent grower members from the chair’s home state if that crop is widely grown in their state. The first hearings are typically held outside of Washington, D.C., in the home states of key members of the Committee.  Witnesses at those hearings are often asked very basic questions, such as “what do you like about the current farm bill?” and “what changes would you like to see made in the next farm bill?”

Beginning early in 2012, the House Agriculture Committee held 13 hearings on farm bill issues, four of them outside of Washington, D.C. in New York, Illinois, Arkansas, and Kansas.  The Senate Agriculture Committee actually started its farm bill hearing process several months earlier, with seven hearings stretched between May 2011 and March 2012, two of them held outside of Washington, D.C., in the home states of the chair and ranking minority member of the Committee, Michigan, and Kansas.

In the run-up to the 2008 Farm Bill, the House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson required any groups who wanted to present farm bill proposals to the Committee for consideration to also submit credible estimates of the budgetary costs of those proposals were they to be implemented. This experiment was not repeated in the farm bill cycle that culminated in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Once the public hearings are completed, informal conversations between Committee staffers and farm and commodity group representatives continue, as the staffers try to piece together provisions for the commodity and crop insurance titles that all the stakeholder groups and Committee members can live with. Draft legislative language for those provisions are evaluated for cost by the Congressional Budget Office, and then modified to make sure the cost of the whole package stays within the budget constraints the Committees face. This part of the farm bill process culminates in the draft bill that the Chairman offers to the Committee for consideration, in a public meeting known as a mark-up. While there are many more steps that must be completed to get a farm bill across the finish line, once the bill is reported out of the respective Committees, other players in the process, such as congressional leadership, USDA staff, and ultimately the White House begin to play more prominent roles.Agricultural economists at USDA often contribute to the process by advising on how proposed changes might affect the operation of farm programs, especially during the conference committee process.

The Full Tapestry of the Farm Bill Process

A similar process is followed by other membership-based groups with vested interests in other titles of the farm bill outside of commodity and crop insurance programs. There are also groups, not necessarily membership-based, which coalesce around opposition to specific portions of the farm bill, such as those proposing tighter limitations on individuals receiving farm program payments than are currently in law, or other groups or organizations wanting to block grant funding for the SNAP program to individual states and take it out of the hands of USDA.Their participation in the process is largely governed by the same two basic rules as the farm and commodity groups, namely when to introduce new ideas into the cycle. While this description of the process represents only a slice of the full tapestry of the current farm bill process, it does allow for tracing the process back to the very beginning, the first farm bill conceived during the throes of the Great Depression, and how it has evolved since that very first 54-page farm bill to the 949-page Agricultural Act of 2014.

For More Information

Babcock, B. 2016. Crop Insurance, A Lottery That’s a Sure Bet. Environmental Working Group. Washington, D.C., February.

Mercier, S.2011. Review of U.S. Farm Programs.  Policy background paper commissioned by the AGree initiative.

Schertz, L. and O.C. Doering III. 1999. The Making of the 1996 Farm Act. Iowa State University Press, Ames.

Stephanie Mercier (smercier@farmjournalfoundation.org) is Director of Policy for the Farm Journal Foundation, and former Chief Economist for the Democratic staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

– See more at: http://www.choicesmagazine.org/choices-magazine/submitted-articles/the-making-of-a-farm-bill#sthash.LG92SUw6.dpuf

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Study: Future drought will offset benefits of higher CO2 on soybean yields

By Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor, 217-766-6241

The Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment system at the University of Illinois allows researchers to simulate future atmospheric conditions to determine their effects on plants. Here, professor Andrew Leakey, right, works with research assistants Lindsey Heady and David Marshak in the SoyFACE facility. PHOTO BY DON HAMERMAN

The Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment system at the University of Illinois allows researchers to simulate future atmospheric conditions to determine their effects on plants. Here, professor Andrew Leakey, right, works with research assistants Lindsey Heady and David Marshak in the SoyFACE facility. PHOTO BY DON HAMERMAN

An eight-year study of soybeans grown outdoors in a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere like that expected by 2050 has yielded a new and worrisome finding: Higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations will boost plant growth under ideal growing conditions, but drought – expected to worsen as the climate warms and rainfall patterns change – will outweigh those benefits and cause yield losses much sooner than anticipated.

The new discovery, reported in the journal Nature Plants, contradicts a widely accepted hypothesis about how climate change will affect food production, said University of Illinois plant biology professor Andrew Leakey, who led the new research.

“If you read the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and if you read the scientific literature on the subject for the last 30 years, the concluding statement is nearly always that elevated carbon dioxide will ameliorate drought stress in crops,” Leakey said.

Numerous laboratory and field studies have supported this assessment: In many scenarios, elevated carbon dioxide acts as a fertilizer, boosting plant growth. Plants exposed to high CO2 also reduce the size of the pores in their leaves, lessening the exchange of gases with the atmosphere. This helps plants use less water from the soil.

Such findings strongly suggested that elevated CO2 would help plants better withstand drought, Leakey said.

“This was consistent with what we saw with our own experiments the first four years, the relatively wet years,” Leakey said. “But when the growing seasons were hot and dry, that pattern broke down.”

To make this discovery, Leakey and his colleagues relied on an unusual technology that enables them to simulate future climate conditions in actual farm fields. The Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment facility uses high-tech sensors to determine wind speed and direction, and a computer to regulate the release of gases to expose the crop plants to a given set of climate conditions. (See video.)

Under hot and dry conditions at elevated CO2, the plants in the SoyFACE experiments used more, not less, water than those grown under current atmospheric conditions, the researchers found.

“What we think is happening is that early in the growing season, when the plant has enough water, it’s able to photosynthesize more as a result of the higher CO2 levels. It’s got more sugars to play with, it grows more, it creates all this extra leaf area,” Leakey said. “But when it gets dry, the plant has overextended itself, so later in the season it’s now using more water.”

Two other plant responses also contribute to the problem, the researchers found.

“At elevated CO2, there are changes in certain hormones the plant uses to signal between the roots and shoots,” Leakey said. “The plant becomes more sensitive to that signal at elevated CO2, and that causes photosynthesis to decline more in response to drought than it would do at ambient CO2 levels.”

Elevated CO2 and drought together also influence soybean’s ability to fix nitrogen through nodules formed on its roots. These nodules harbor bacteria that help the plant capture and convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plants can metabolize.

Under elevated CO2 and drought, the number of beneficial nodules on the soybean roots increases, Leakey said.

“But what we find is that they put all these extra nodules on in relatively shallow soil layers. And the nodules don’t work well when they’re in dry soil.”

The new findings, from soybeans grown in one of the most productive regions of the planet, suggest climate-related declines in soybean yields will occur sooner than previously thought, Leakey said.

“All of the model predictions up to this point were assuming that in 2050, elevated CO2 was going to give us a 15 percent increase in yield over what we had at the beginning of this century,” he said. “And what we’re seeing is that as it gets hotter and drier, that number diminishes to zero. No gain.”

Leakey is an affiliate of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Energy and the USDA Agricultural Research Service funded this research, along with a gift from David Sigman to the U. of I. at Urbana-Champaign.

Editor’s notes:

To reach Andrew Leakey, call 217-244-0302; email leakey@illinois.edu.
The paper “Intensifying drought eliminates the expected benefits of elevated CO2 for soybean” is available from the U. of I. News Bureau.

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NCIPMC announces two IPM funding opportunities for NC Region

Please share with anyone who may benefit from this information.

The North Central Integrated Pest Management Center (NCIPMC) is pleased to announce NCIPMC logo - original two IPM funding opportunities for our region.

The NCIPMC Working Group Grants Program Request for Applications seeks proposals from self-selected, self-directed groups to support collaboration among diverse audiences to address regional IPM priorities. Proposals may request up to $20,000 to support their working group activities.

The NCIPMC Critical Issues Grants Program Request for Applications seeks proposals that address new and emerging issues that require immediate intervention or projects that require preliminary studies to determine the best method to address the pest issue. Proposals may request up to $50,000 to support their project.

The due date for both the Working Group and Critical Issues Grants Programs is Friday, Nov. 18, 2016.  Please note the new overhead rates in the RFA.

The RFAs may be viewed at www.ncipmc.org/grants/ncipmc_grants.php and through the online submission website located at https://projects.ipmcenters.org/Northcentral/public/ListRFAs.cfm.

Please share this announcement with others who would be interested in these funding opportunities.

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