Since the first farmer planted seeds to grow food, humans have studied plant growth and ways to make farming more productive. Today’s sophisticated research includes the study of crop phenology – how plant development is affected by many factors in varied cropping systems. Roger Elmore, an original DWFI researcher, devoted his career to this study.
“After all these years of studying crop phenology, we are still amazed what we can learn, and need to learn, about how crops grow,” he said.
In 2016, the world became aware of shocking proof that we need to study crop development: issues with corn ear development. Some fields were yielding two-thirds less than expected.
Through research, Elmore and others discovered it is likely a cascade of events, from genetics and the environment to management systems, along with event timing, that triggers ear development problems. It was exciting research, he said. No one had ever before attempted to piece together these factors.
Elmore is also known for cover crop research to help increase soil quality and crop productivity over time. The challenge is incorporating cover crops sustainably into already wellfunctioning cropping systems.
“Sustainability”, of course, means efficient use of all inputs — including water. “Cropping systems need to be completely re-thought and modified to accommodate cover crops and reap their long-term benefits,” he explained. Sustainably improving productivity, Elmore points out, helps ensure a more water and food secure world. “DWFI provides critical support for all of this work,” he said, “and provides linkages here at the university and around the world for more cooperation and interaction.”
Following his recent retirement, Elmore’s colleagues and students are carrying on his work. Additional cover crop research is expected to be published soon.