Iowa is the top soybean producing state in the nation and researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are hoping to help growers by determining which soybean varieties react the best to a changing climate.

James Bunce is a Research Plant Physiologist with the USDA. “We’re looking for variation among soybeans in how they respond to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration,” Bunce says.

Rising CO-2 tends to stimulate yields of many different kinds of crops, according to Bunce, including some soybeans. “What we’re trying to do is just optimize that stimulation by finding the varieties that respond best when grown at high CO-2,” Bunce says. “And ultimately we’re trying to find the genes that are responsible for that, but the first step is just to find varieties that respond better than others.”

Bunce says finding the most CO-2 adaptable soybeans is important because it will help maintain an abundant and affordable food supply. He notes the U.S. is “remarkably lucky” in terms of our natural resources. “The amount of money that we spend per capita for food is very low compared to most other places in the world, just because we have such abundant food crops and resources to grow them,” Bunce says. “This is just trying to keep that favorable balance of food supply intact as the climate changes.” Iowa farmers grew 414 million bushels of soybeans last year.

Soybeans are increasingly used for human consumption and alternative fuel, but are still predominantly used for animal feed.