Optimizing Canopies

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.

Ryan Boyd
Brian Diers
Anthony Digrado
Jake Harris
Laurie Leonelli Headshot
Jiating Li
Steve Long
Donald Ort
Sam Stutz
Bishal Tamang
A woman surrounded by green plants holding a plant.

For two decades, Ainsworth has helped shape climate change research at SoyFACE

Lisa Ainsworth, the head of the USDA ARS Global Change & Photosynthesis Unit at SoyFACE, has left an indelible mark on the advancement of crop resilience to climate change.

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OVER THE COLES: Dynamic photosynthesis model simulates 10-20 percent yield increase

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.

By: Clint Walker || Journal Gazette & Times-Courier 

Close-up picture of wheat

Engineering Photosynthesis

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. 

By:  | General Science 

Cowpea rows

Scientists further cowpea research—boosting canopy CO2 assimilation, water-use efficiency

RIPE has analyzed how much variation exists within cowpea lines in light absorption and CO2 assimilation throughout the canopy.

light green plants

Light green plants save nitrogen without sacrificing photosynthetic efficiency

RIPE scientists designed plants with light green leaves to allow more light to penetrate the crop canopy to increase light-use efficiency and yield. 


Soybean plants with fewer leaves yield more

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.