Physiological principles of U.S. sub-tropical crop production
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Research is needed to increase the global competitiveness of the U.S. agricultural production system (USDA NIFA Strategic Plan FY2014-FY2018). One well-known aspect of increasing this competitiveness is to enhance plant biological efficiency (Donald and Hamblin, 1976; Tilman et al., 2002). Another is to use biological knowledge to limit effects of abiotic and biotic stresses on crop plants (Cramer et al., 2011; Atkinson and Urwin, 2012; Cairns et al., 2013). For each, options are available as to how the advantage in efficiency or stress resistance is achieved. We can improve the cultivars used for production and/or improve the production system. In reality, these two approaches overlap in the realm of applied plant physiology, i.e., utilize understanding of how the plant functions to enhance yield and product-quality potentials, maximize sustainability, or maintain yield while improving efficiency.In addition to improving the profitability of current crops, the long-term economic viability of producers in high rainfall, long growing season areas such as the Texas Upper Gulf Coast depends on development of additional crops for these areas. Progress made in demonstrating the potential for commercial production of bio-products from cellulosic feedstocks indicates the potential profitability of crops, such as sorghums and energy cane, grown for their biomass. There is also renewed interest in use of sugar crops as advanced biofuel/bioproduct feedstock crops (Beesch, 1952; Whitfield et al., 2012; Zegada-Lizararazu and Monti, 2012), in which both nonstructural and structural carbohydrates can be used, leading to useful drop-in fuels and industrial feedstock chemicals. The emergence of an advanced biofuel industry will also benefit from the development of additional oilseed crops and improved production systems for these crops.Crop research in Texas and elsewhere has often employed physiological knowledge to increase biological efficiency of these crops and investigate ways to minimize the effect of stresses upon them (Boyer and McPherson, 1975; Crosbie and Mock, 1981; Waddington et al., 1986; Egli 2004; Araus et al., 2008; Tardieu et al., 2011; Mohammed et al., 2015). This utilization of physiological knowledge has typically been in addition to other approaches, and emphasizes the need to incorporate the understanding of physiological processes that can only be gained from dedicated studies. Dedicated physiology research is needed in support of crop breeding in order to take advantage of recent improvements in relevant technology, including molecular-marker assisted (Jones et al., 1997; Liao et al., 2004; Harbinson et al., 2012) and physiological-model assisted breeding (Wu and Wilson, 1998; Slafer, 2003; Peng et al., 2008). In each case, there must be careful consideration in identifying appropriate traits to be examined.........