Crops are cultivated at high density to achieve maximum yields on each acre. The plants grow together forming a dense canopy that does not allow light to penetrate to the lower leaves while the upper canopy leaves receive more light than they are able to use for photosynthesis. Computer simulations suggest that making the upper canopy leaves lighter and more erect while making the lower leaves darker and more horizontal would allow higher levels of photosynthesis to throughout the plant, greatly increasing photosynthetic efficiency and therefore yield. These simulations also suggest that many crops produce too many leaves for optimum light and nitrogen use efficiency. RIPE is working to develop crops with more optimized canopies.
A team from the University of Illinois has developed a model that treats photosynthesis as a dynamic process rather than an activity that either is or is not happening.
There’s some bad news, followed by good news, but partially countered by further bad news. The bad news is that our population is growing, and therefore our food requirements, and yet we are approaching the limits of our ability to increase crop yield with cultivation alone.
In the next 50 years, the human population and global affluence—both major drivers of agricultural demand—are only expected to increase; researchers estimate that food production will need to grow by 60 to 120 percent by mid-century to keep pace.
RIPE has analyzed how much variation exists within cowpea lines in light absorption and CO2 assimilation throughout the canopy.
RIPE scientists designed plants with light green leaves to allow more light to penetrate the crop canopy to increase light-use efficiency and yield.
Using computer model simulations, scientists predicted fewer leaves could boost yields and confirmed it works in real-world field trials—increasing soybean production by 8%. This yield gain, which far surpasses the one percent average, is needed to produce 70-100% more food by 2050 to feed an estimated 9.7 billion people.