The important but weakening maize yield benefit of grain filling prolongation in the US Midwest

Peng Zhu, Zhenong Jin, Qianlai Zhuang, Philippe Ciais, Carl Bernacchi, Xuhui Wang, David Makowski, David Lobell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A better understanding of recent crop yield trends is necessary for improving the yield and maintaining food security. Several possible mechanisms have been investigated recently in order to explain the steady growth in maize yield over the US Corn-Belt, but a substantial fraction of the increasing trend remains elusive. In this study, trends in grain filling period (GFP) were identified and their relations with maize yield increase were further analyzed. Using satellite data from 2000 to 2015, an average lengthening of GFP of 0.37 days per year was found over the region, which probably results from variety renewal. Statistical analysis suggests that longer GFP accounted for roughly one-quarter (23%) of the yield increase trend by promoting kernel dry matter accumulation, yet had less yield benefit in hotter counties. Both official survey data and crop model simulations estimated a similar contribution of GFP trend to yield. If growing degree days that determines the GFP continues to prolong at the current rate for the next 50 years, yield reduction will be lessened with 25% and 18% longer GFP under Representative Concentration Pathway 2.6 (RCP 2.6) and RCP 6.0, respectively. However, this level of progress is insufficient to offset yield losses in future climates, because drought and heat stress during the GFP will become more prevalent and severe. This study highlights the need to devise multiple effective adaptation strategies to withstand the upcoming challenges in food security.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4718-4730
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • Maize grain filling prolongation
  • US Midwest
  • crop growth stages
  • crop model
  • food security
  • global warming
  • satellite data
  • yield benefit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science(all)


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