Stories: On the Farm
Dr. Paxton Payton - Lubbock, TX, USA

Helping crops adapt to a changing landscape

Dr. Paxton Payton - Cotton LEADSDr. Paxton Payton is a plant physiologist at the USDA-ARS Cropping Systems Research Laboratory in Lubbock, Texas. His primary research is aimed at understanding molecular and physiological factors that affect abiotic stress tolerance. Of particular interest is how plants acclimate to drought and temperature stress, as well as the development of crop management tools that allow growers to monitor stress and take advantage of plant acclimation responses to maximize yields with limited inputs.

Regulated Deficit Irrigation (RDI) utilizes water deficit periods timed to certain crop developmental stages to control vegetative growth while maintaining seed yield and quality. For water limited areas, like the Texas High Plains, RDI may have benefit of both water savings and early maturity. Some of Dr. Payton’s recent work suggests that an RDI scheme known as Primed Acclimation could be used to “harden” the crop using periods of early season water reductions, resulting in plants that are better able to withstand periods of water scarcity during reproductive growth stages. A critical component of RDI is the correct timing and magnitude of irrigation inputs, which is determined in large part by the producer’s understanding of the physiological state of the crop at any moment in time. One aspect of Dr. Payton’s work is to improve the ability to accurately measure the physiological state of the crop and transmit that information to the grower or to automated irrigation systems. Dr. Payton’s lab, along with Dr. James Mahan at USDA-ARS in Lubbock and Diane Rowland at the University of Florida, are working on quantifying crop stress to create new RDI management schemes.

In addition to developing irrigation scheduling tools, Dr. Payton’s laboratory is examining germplasm for specific traits related to acclimation. This work is part of an ongoing collaboration with Dr. David Tissue at the University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment and Dr. Michael Bange at CSIRO in Australia. For this research, Dr. Payton and his collaborators are studying cultivar response to elevated CO2, high temperature and drought in both greenhouse and field studies in Australia and Texas. This work includes current elite cultivars, breeding lines and transgenic cotton genotypes engineered for improved stress tolerance.

U.S. and Australian cotton growers face many of the same issues when it comes to water resources. Increased demand for urban areas, predicted increase in temperature and increased variability in rainfall, and volatile pricing all place significant importance on improved stress tolerance in the germplasm, and improved cost-effective management tools. The collaboration with Australian researchers has brought together a wide range of expertise in plant physiology, agronomy and engineering that will hopefully have direct benefits to the cotton communities in both countries.

Get to know other growers and researchers