UACES Facebook Adapting row crops to climate change a focus of new Arkansas ag professor
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Adapting row crops to climate change a focus of new Arkansas ag professor

Oct. 20, 2023

By John Lovett
University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station

Fast facts

  • Research will help adapt Arkansas commodity crops to effects of climate change
  • Elvis Elli joined crop, soil and environmental sciences department as assistant professor
  • Earned Ph.D. in agricultural systems engineering, agrometeorology and climate risk

(802 words)

(Editors: Elli’s name is pronounced el-LEE)

Download photo of Elli

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Meteorologists use models to predict the weather. Elvis Elli uses models to predict how crops might respond to a complex and changing environment.

Elvis Elli portrait
CROP PHYSIOLOGIST — Elvis Elli conducts research to adapt row crops to climate change and teaches crop physiology. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo by Paden Johnson)

Elli — a new assistant professor of crop physiology and adaptation to climate change — began work with the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station in September. He will also teach crop physiology through the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences. The experiment station is the research arm of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Crop physiologists work to learn what influences plant growth and how plants respond to their changing environment.

“We are very excited to have Dr. Elli as part of our team,” said Jeff Edwards, professor and head of the crop, soil and environmental sciences department. “Dr. Elli brings with him a diverse knowledge of agriculture and strong crop modeling skills, which greatly strengthens our research portfolio and competitiveness for external funding.”

There are different concepts of crop modeling, Elli said, but he describes it as “a framework that integrates soil, crop, weather and management information to predict and understand how crop yields will vary depending on the environment, and specific conditions on sites.” Elli noted he also uses a plant's genetics to help predict crop responses. Data analytics is an important skill set for this research.

Climate challenges

Elli was a postdoctoral research associate at Iowa State University for the past two years. In addition to research on corn, such as how corn plant architecture has changed over time due to breeding, he developed a framework to quantify multiple agricultural system variables simultaneously to study the impact of climate change on soybean nitrogen dynamics.

“Most of the time, we develop approaches that evaluate one single variable in the system, and this time, we tried to evaluate the entire system,” Elli said. “So, we performed a system’s understanding of how increased temperatures and changing precipitations would affect nitrogen dynamics.”

One of Elli’s research objectives in Arkansas is to integrate field experimentation with crop modeling to create frameworks that may help design strategies to adapt to climate change. There are several challenges that climate change is bringing in the context of crop production.

“We are seeing an increase in temperatures, and this is expected to continue increasing in the future, so the average temperature is getting higher and higher,” Elli said. “We’re also finding an increase in the occurrence of weather extremes, such as drought and flood events, with the rate of distribution in rainfall expected to change. We may have more drought events in some periods and more flood events in others. So, we need to design better strategies to cope with climate change.”

“While the causes of climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions, are important topics to research, we have other faculty working in those areas,” Edwards explained. “Dr. Elli’s position is focused on understanding how changes in temperature and extreme weather events affect plant growth and physiological processes.”

For example, Edwards added, Elli’s research would address potential crop yield changes from increased average nighttime temperatures. His research will also help determine if specific crop genotypes handle environmental stresses better than others, and if so, why they can better adapt and what genes are responsible. Elli will work with plant breeders to use the research to develop varieties better adapted to environmental stresses and seek answers for the best way to manage the new crop varieties.

“To be effective in this type of research, a crop physiologist must be a strong collaborator,” Edwards said. “It was clear during the interview process that Dr. Elli was interested in collaborating across disciplines, and that was one of the reasons we decided he was a great fit for this position.”

Elli said one of the things that excites him about his new position in Arkansas is the variety of commodity crops grown in the state, including rice, wheat, grain sorghum and cotton, in addition to corn and soybeans. While Elli’s office and lab are in Fayetteville, he will conduct studies at several locations in eastern Arkansas.

Although he’s far from his home on the farm in Brazil, the South American country and Arkansas share some parallels. For instance, Brazil is the world’s largest soybean producer and home to over half of the Amazon rainforest. In Arkansas, soybean is the most valuable commodity crop, worth more than $1.6 billion in 2021, and more than half of the state is forested, according to the 2023 Arkansas Agriculture Profile.

Elli earned his bachelor’s degree in agronomy and his master’s in agronomy, agriculture and environment from Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, BrazilHis doctorate is in agricultural systems engineering, agrometeorology and climate risk from Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz - Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil.

And yes, his parents were Elvis Presley fans, accounting for his first name.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk. To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


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Media Contact: John Lovett
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station
(479) 763-5929