Dr. Paxton Payton – USDA/ARS

Paxton-PaytonDr. 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 abiotic stress tolerance.  Of particular interest is how plants acclimate to drought and temperature stress and 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 developed 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.

Dr. Paxton Payton holds a B.A. in Biology from The University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in Biology from Texas Tech University. He joined the USDA-ARS Cropping Systems Research Laboratory in 2002 and is and adjunct professor in the Departments of Biology and Plant and Soil Sciences at Texas Tech. Dr. Payton has mentored several graduate students at Texas Tech, Texas A&M, University of Florida, New Mexico State University, and University of Sydney.

Pictured:  Dr. Paxton Payton and Katie Broughton, a graduate student at the University of Sydney, at the CSIRO Australian Cotton Research Institute in Narrabri.
Photo courtesy of Melanie Jensen.