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Boosting crop resilience: Mitigating abiotic stress in crops

Making plants more resilient to extreme environmental conditions is a growing area of research and development, and is key to the future of sustainable farming. Our new paper explores the possibilities and challenges of abiotic stress management.

Why should we care about abiotic stress?

Abiotic stress in crops – ie damage caused by environmental factors such as drought, waterlogging, salinity (salt tolerance), pH, and temperature (extreme cold and heat stress) - has always been a problem for farmers in extreme climates. As climate change brings ever-increasing erratic weather, the impact of abiotic stresses is worsening everywhere, even in regions with historically mild climates. Some estimates suggest abiotic stresses already cause over $170bn (£138bn) in crop losses per annum.
 
Abiotic stresses can either directly damage the plant, or induce biological responses that can be detrimental to plant health and yield. By modifying how plants react to these stresses, we can make create more resilient plants with better yields, even as climate conditions worsen.

New whitepaper abiotic stress

Four strategies for responding to abiotic stress

In our new paper, Mitigating Abiotic Stress to Create Resilient Crops, we look at four strategies for dealing with abiotic stress: priming, biostimulants, breeding, and good farming practices.
 
Priming involves getting the seed beyond its early germination phase – where it is most vulnerable to environmental stresses – before it is planted. This improves overall germination, even in stressed conditions, and prevents seed dormancy. Tailored priming can also stimulate defense mechanisms such as antioxidants and osmoprotectants, that make it more resilient to stresses.

Biostimulants are chemicals or microorganisms that can be applied to seeds, plants, or soils, to stimulate natural processes in the plant. For example, some biostimulants boost antioxidant production, which enables plants to mop up excess reactive oxygen species (ROS) - molecules which are often overproduced in stressed plants and can damage plant cells. Antioxidant-boosting biostimulants, like Meliora™, have also been proven to enhance bean quality and promote average cocoa yield by over 35%.

Breeding involves creating plants that have genetic traits adapted to stressful conditions, for example those which naturally produce more antioxidants or growth hormones. Conventionally this involves the long process of cross-breeding plants with desirable traits by exposing them to stress conditions – such as water deficit, high salinity, extreme temperatures, and nutrient deficiencies – with the aim of inducing stress-related physiological and biochemical changes. However, modern measurement now lets us detect molecular or genetic markers associated with desirable traits for faster and more targeted selective breeding programmes. Direct gene editing could play a role in future, but for now is limited to lab research.

Finally, good farming practices will be increasingly needed. These include reducing stressful conditions, for example, planting trees to create shade, efficient water management, and the use of sensors to enable more precise, data-driven interventions against abiotic stress.

An important and exciting area of research

Whilst there is growing innovation around abiotic stress solutions, we are only just scratching the surface of what’s possible. The area remains challenging with a wide variety of research avenues still to explore in all the areas discussed above.
 
Our new paper explores some of the approaches and solutions being developed in all four of these areas and discusses the broad challenges that abiotic stress researchers face, and how we might overcome them to boost this exciting area of innovation. 

Download the full report here.

White paper: Mitigating abiotic stress to create resilient crops

Whitepaper Mitigating abiotic stress
6.2 MB

Sustainability in Crop Care

Croda works with independent partners to validate the importance and relevance of the SDGs for both its whole business and its Crop Care footprint. Discover how we are collectively using smart science to maximise land productivity, by increasing yield and increasing resilience, whilst protecting soil health and biodiversity.

Whitepaper Mitigating abiotic stress

Making plants more resilient with better yields

Marcia Werner, Research and Technology Director, Incotec: “Making plants more resilient to extreme environmental conditions is a growing area of research and development. Abiotic stresses can either directly damage the plant or trigger biological responses that can be detrimental to plant health and yield. By modifying how plants react to these stresses, we can make plants more resilient, with better yields, even as climate conditions worsen. Whilst there is growing innovation around abiotic stress solutions, we are only just scratching the surface of what’s possible. The area remains challenging with a wide variety of research avenues still to explore. Our new paper explores some of the approaches and solutions being developed in all four of these areas and discusses the broad challenges that abiotic stress researchers face, and how we might overcome them to boost this exciting area of innovation.”
The new whitepaper on abiotic stress: ‘Mitigating Abiotic Stress to Create Resilient Crops’, is a collaborative report produced with input from the top experts in the field from Incotec and Croda as well as from other sources including contributions from Dr Rosa Dominguez-Espinosa (Syngenta), Dr Agnieszka Doroszuk and Professor Ben Scheres (Rijk Zwaan), Professor Edvaldo Aparecido Amaral da Silva (São Paulo State University) and Hubert Ehouman (UPL).
Interested to find out more about how Croda mitigates abiotic stress?