Combating barriers to crop production

With a growing world population and climate change creating more extreme weather, it is vital we develop sustainable ways of improving the resilience and productivity of staple crops such as maize and rice. The University of Birmingham is tackling this global challenge by working with collaborators to reduce the major problem of lodging.

Toxic chemicals

Lodging is where severe weather causes crops to become uprooted or breaks their stems. It prevents crops growing to their full potential which reduces the quantity of seed they produce (the yield). Lodging makes crops more susceptible to infection by fungi which can produce toxic chemicals. These impacts of lodging substantially reduce the value of a crop and there can be additional costs of drying the grain. 

Lodging commonly reduces yields by up to 40%, representing a major constraint for crop productivity, particularly for low to middle income countries.  In Mexico, it is estimated that typical lodging in maize costs on average $50 million per year. The corresponding figure for Rice in China is up to $1000 million per year. 

Cereal crops

By taking appropriate action (e.g. choice of crop variety and how it is managed) it is possible for farmers to reduce the likelihood of lodging. Over the past 20 years we have successfully combined wind engineering expertise with our partners’ biological and agronomic expertise to make great advances in improving the understanding and control of lodging in cereal crops in the UK. 

A spokesperson said: ‘We are now taking this a step further in a project with Lancaster University, ADAS and BBSRC. We are carrying out research into ways of minimising lodging in maize and rice, investigating the effects of weather and soil conditions on different types of crops in different regions.’

The project is being led by University of Birmingham researchers Professor Mark Sterling, Head of the University’s School of Engineering, and Professor Chris Baker, Dr David Soper and Mike Jesson, of the Department of Engineering, jointly with Professor Alan Blackburn, of the University of Lancaster.