The University of Nebraska–Lincoln's target on the challenge concerning food security has resulted in an increased focus on areas such as plant breeding, and disease and drought tolerance. One of the best ways to study these complex challenges is through plant phenotyping, a method of studying complex plant traits, or phenotypes.
In the spring of 2017, Nebraska installed its first field phenotyping facility at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center. The facility features an automated cable suspended carrier system that holds multiple cameras and sensors, which take high resolution images of crops. The site is also equipped with an advanced automated weather station, and state-of-the-art subsurface drip irrigation for water and nutrient delivery and manipulation at the plot level.
This is the third phase in Nebraska's phenotyping research, which started out relatively small, with a chamber-size scale at the Beadle Center in Lincoln before advancing to greenhouse scale phenotyping at Nebraska Innovation Campus.
"There's a lot of people doing plant phenotyping, but what makes Nebraska unique is being able to build capacity across these different scales and integrate teams across those scales," said Archie Clutter, dean of Nebraska's Agricultural Research Division.
The one-acre imaging area is currently planted with maize and soybeans.
"This translational research allows us to transfer approaches and discoveries from the greenhouse to the field. In order to make a real impact, all of our research must be tested in the field, which is what the new field system at ENREC allows us to do," said Yufeng Ge, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering.
According to Ge, one of the major impacts this system could bring to Nebraska is through plant breeding. A common breeding cycle from germplasm selection to the release of a variety is typically 7-12 years. Research at the field phenotyping facility can shorten this cycle, meaning better varieties could be released at a faster rate.