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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Maricopa, Arizona » U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center » Plant Physiology and Genetics Research » Research » Research Project #428123

Research Project: Coordinated ALARC-MAC Effort in Developing Field-Based, High-Throughput Phenotyping and Proximal Sensing Technologies

Location: Plant Physiology and Genetics Research

Project Number: 2020-21410-007-01-N
Project Type: Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Jun 22, 2015
End Date: Jun 21, 2020

To unlock the full potential of modern phenomics-based plant breeding, it is essential to develop field-based, high-throughput phenotyping (FB-HTP) methods that can be used to rapidly and accurately assess the phenotypes of hundreds or thousands of plant germplasm. Phenotypic data can be coupled with genomic information of the germplasm to identify genetic markers associated with desired or undesirable traits. While the technologies for genome sequencing and genotyping have rapidly advanced, our overall ability to phenotype plants using high-throughput approaches remains a major challenge. The US Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center (ALARC) in Maricopa, AZ is working to become a world-class facility for high-throughput phenotyping relating to research on heat and drought stress tolerance. A major part of this effort is the development and testing of various instruments and sensors that are attached to moving platforms, such as a self-propelled high clearance tractors or manual push carts, which are subsequently deployed in agricultural fields for collection of crop phenotyping data. This technology cuts across multiple research projects and Units at ALARC, with multiple scientists, technicians and support staff that are developing these technologies and routinely utilizing them in crop breeding, crop modeling, water and nitrogen management, and remote sensing research programs. Similar tractor-based technologies are being developed at the University of Arizona, Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC), located adjacent to the ALARC facility. The effort at the MAC is being developed primarily by Dr. Pedro Andrade-Sanchez and his staff, and includes elements of FB-HTP as well as precision agriculture. Due to shared interests in FB-HTP research between ALARC and MAC, our objective is to form a joint effort to more rapidly and effectively advance the development and deployment of FB-HTP technologies. Our shared vision is that Maricopa, AZ will become known as a world-class location for FB-HTP and phenomics-based research. In addition, the unique climate of Maricopa allows for nearly year-round plantings, with a hot, dry climate and sunny clear skies which facilitates heat and drought research. There are three major objectives to our overall collaborative effort including i) Development of standardized platforms that provide FB-HTP service for projects; ii) Conduct research and development on FB-HTP technologies, including the testing and calibrating of various sensors, developing and testing various mounting and deployment strategies (tractor, cart, unmanned aerial vehicles, etc.), and collecting and processing various data streams for delivery to the end-user; and iii) training and outreach activities. Collectively, these efforts will create a synergistic environment between MAC and ALARC that will allow rapid progress and leveraging of resources empowering Maricopa to become a hub for world-class HTP and phenomics-based research.

The MAC and ALARC have each acquired various expertise and equipment for HTP activities and phenomics-based research. ALARC has a LeeAgra AvengerPro high-clearance tractor, which is outfitted with a variety of sensor and associated technologies for proximal monitoring of in-field crop development and environmental variables. ALARC continues to improve the capacity of this platform, and also has additional operable proximal sensing platforms, including a second Hamby high-clearance tractor and a proximal sensing cart built with bicycle frames. With the tractor systems and expertise also held by Dr. Andrade-Sanchez and his team at the MAC, there is an obvious critical mass of equipment and know-how that justifies establishing a robust, MAC/ALARC joint phenomics effort. To help facilitate this collaborative endeavor, the MAC/ALARC scientists and administration have identified the Building 2531 (Agricultural Engineering building) at the MAC as a location where research equipment and expertise can be effectively combined. The facility is currently vacant but shows great potential for housing the FB-HTP activities, since the building is insulated, has the capacity to be cooled, has shop-grade electrical infrastructure, has large roll-up doors adequate for oversized field equipment, and has a large, fenced-in area surrounding its outside yard. The resultant level of rehabilitation undertaken to improve this Ag Engineering building would of course depend on the coordinated resources that would be available between ARS and MAC and the ultimate needs of the joint program. ARS has the interest, some funds, and facilities expertise that could be dedicated to this venture. Relevant MAC and ALARC equipment would be housed in this facility to conduct joint research efforts, and MAC and ALARC staff would work in this space as appropriate to help coordinate efforts. Repurposing and rehabilitation of the building would be conducted as funds become available through a pending lease agreement with the University.