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New Research Lends an Ear to How Drought Impacts Corn Yields

By Eric Hamilton

Corn is a classic American crop. First cultivated in North America thousands of years ago, it now blankets American farmland from coast to coast. The U.S. grows more corn than any other country. And the grain is used for everything from tortilla chips to cow feed, to biofuel.

But like most crops, corn is facing a new risk – climate change. Climate change isn’t just making the world warmer. It’s also changing when and how much rain falls. This leaves more corn farmers at risk of facing drought during part of the growing season.


Unfortunately, not all droughts are created equal. If it strikes at the wrong time, an entire field can be lost.

“A severe drought during the corn reproductive stage can cause a complete crop failure. Thus, understanding corn responses to drought and managing accordingly is critical for successful corn production,” says Ranadheer Vennam, graduate student in the Plant and Soil Sciences department at Mississippi State University.

Vennam studies how corn responds to drought. In his latest research, Vennam and his lab group looked at how sensitive corn flowering is to drought and the impacts it has for farmers.

Vennam presented his work at the 2022 ASA-CSSA-SSSA annual meeting, held in Baltimore, Maryland.

Corn flowering is rather complex. Each individual ovule sends out a very long silk, which must capture pollen from the tassels above the plant in order to produce a kernel. This requires careful coordination. “Successful reproduction in corn is all about timing,” says Dr. Raju Bheemanahalli (Vennam’s supervisor). “It takes less than two weeks for corn to pollinate, which is extremely sensitive to stressors, including drought.”

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