The growing demand for food worldwide has helped push the
price of many commodities to record levels.
Besides demand, prices are influenced by other factors such as weather
patterns and pollutants that can affect crop yields. At the University of
Illinois in Urbana, researchers are studying the effects pollutants have on
crop growth. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports, the researchers say they can
accurately predict future carbon levels in the atmosphere and in the world's
planting season for corn and soybeans in the United States. For Amy Betzelberger, the time of year is
Amy grew up
on a farm near a small town in Illinois a few hours away
from this field. Growing crops is a
lived on that same farm for over 150 years, so I actually grew up, you know,
playing in the soybeans, playing the pasture, and learned at a very early age
not to go out in the cornfield once it's past your head," Betzelberger
in the planting season. It will be some
time before the corn is over Amy's head.
is run by the University of Illinois in Urbana and is an important part of a
study called SOYFACE. Amy is working on it under the direction of
Donald Ort, a scientist with the U.S Department of Agriculture.
are located right in the center of the U.S. corn belt,” Ort explains. “The
Midwest is responsible for growing about 40 percent of the maize and soybean
that's produced throughout the world.
You may know that maize is the most important food crop in the world,
and soybean is the most important oilseed crop in the world."
scientists here say these fields are an ideal place to conduct studies on how
greenhouse gases affect crop growth - and how much, or how little, the world
food supply will be affected by climate change.
dioxide gas is released from the tubes surrounding the corn plants and, inside
this ring, it wafts over the crop at a level environmental scientists predict
for the year 2050.
show elevated carbon dioxide, a gas attributed to global warming, helps grow
plants larger and in greenhouses it makes plants look more beautiful.
we didn't know is that it also makes the plants more delicious to herbivorous
insects, which might be a problem in the future if there's more bugs eating our
crops," Betzelberger said.
there's the issue of elevated ozone, which when released in the rings appeared
to lower soybean yields by 20 percent due to ozone pollution.
of corn and soybean production is a great concern to countries struggling with
record food prices, caused in part by increased demand and decreased
supply. Millions of the world's poorest
people are on the brink of starvation.
"We began seeing even five and six years ago that world grain reserves
were in dangerously low levels and those were harbingers of beginning to wonder
if there is a bad year globally in production, how is that going to affect
world food supplies and we're beginning to see that play out," he said.
short-term, SOYFACE will have no impact on food prices.
the long term, scientists say this research and related genetic engineering
might produce varieties that are more resistant to increased carbon and ozone
levels, and to plant-eating bugs. And that could help prevent future price
spikes and shortages.
Betzelberger, it's about carrying on a family tradition that has survived war,
drought, flooding, and the Great Depression. "If people are aware of these
things, there will be more push for tax dollars or more private companies to
fund this sort of thing," Betzelberger said.
says she hopes families like hers will have confidence that when they plant a
crop, it will grow, even in an era of climate change.