A better understanding of recent crop yield trends is necessary for improving the yield and maintaining food security. Several possible mechanisms have been investigated recently in order to explain the steady growth in maize yield over the US Corn-Belt, but a substantial fraction of the increasing trend remains elusive. In this study, trends in grain filling period (GFP) were identified and their relations with maize yield increase were further analyzed. Using satellite data from 2000 to 2015, an average lengthening of GFP of 0.37 days per year was found over the region, which probably results from variety renewal. Statistical analysis suggests that longer GFP accounted for roughly one-quarter (23%) of the yield increase trend by promoting kernel dry matter accumulation, yet had less yield benefit in hotter counties. Both official survey data and crop model simulations estimated a similar contribution of GFP trend to yield. If growing degree days that determines the GFP continues to prolong at the current rate for the next 50 years, yield reduction will be lessened with 25% and 18% longer GFP under Representative Concentration Pathway 2.6 (RCP 2.6) and RCP 6.0, respectively. However, this level of progress is insufficient to offset yield losses in future climates, because drought and heat stress during the GFP will become more prevalent and severe. This study highlights the need to devise multiple effective adaptation strategies to withstand the upcoming challenges in food security.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank two anonymous reviewers’ comments to help us significantly improve this study. This research was supported by a NSF project (IIS‐1027955) and a NASA LCLUC project (NNX09AI26G) to Q. Z. We acknowledge the Rosen High Performance Computing Center at Purdue for computing support.
- Maize grain filling prolongation
- US Midwest
- crop growth stages
- crop model
- food security
- global warming
- satellite data
- yield benefit