Two University of Florida-led teams have been awarded federal grants totaling $6.9 million for projects to develop heat-resistant corn and develop Extension programs to help farmers cope with climate variability and climate change.

The grants, for $5 million and $1.9 million, were announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both projects are led by faculty members with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and involve personnel from other institutions.

The projects were supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grants from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as part of a program on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The corn project, awarded a five-year, $5 million grant, focuses on finding ways to lessen the harmful effects of heat on starch formation in corn kernels, said Curt Hannah, principal investigator for the project and a UF professor emeritus in horticultural sciences. Corn kernels are about 70 percent starch, a carbohydrate.

“There are already data showing that even in the Midwest, where most U.S. corn is grown, temperatures are already above optimal levels for starch production and yield right now,” Hannah said.

“It’s projected to get hotter, and increased temperatures are going to mean less corn harvested unless we develop new heat-resistant varieties.”

The corn genome has been fully sequenced, so researchers will survey it for genes that control factors related to yield, and will pay particular attention to those producing heat-sensitive enzymes, he said.