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Improving crop yields to feed a growing global population

We are using measurement to fast-track the development of more robust varieties of wheat

The need

Wheat is a key crop in the UK and Europe, and demand is expected to steadily increase to meet the needs of a growing global population. To address this, we must find new the varieties of wheat to be farmed, which are able to both produce high yields and be robust enough to adapt to a changing climate.

The impact

For any new crop varieties to succeed accurate and repeatable measurements are needed to enable the process of selection and cross-breeding, which is known in the agri-industry as phenotyping.

Current phenotyping technology is limited to those that provide highly accurate results but are limited by being fixed in position so cover only a small area, or those that are rudimentary handheld instruments, which are portable but lack accuracy and repeatability. Most current analysis therefore has to be carried out harvesting crops at various parts of the growth cycle. This is expensive, slow work that only analyses dead crops.

We are collaborating with partners including NIAB, Rothamsted Research, Syngenta and the University of Cambridge to deliver a field-deployable 3D imaging demonstrator capable of covering 2.5 hectares per hour with centimetre-accuracy positioning. 

NPL has proven experience in delivering instrumentation for crop measurement and harvesting. We will use this expertise to innovatively use commercially available vision systems such as time of flight and 3D cameras, combined with improved positioning technologies beyond GPS to access individual plants. We can then quickly assess the quality of the crop from a rolling platform traveling at 15 km/h in a repeatable and on-going fashion. The instrumentation we deliver will be a field-deployable package enabling complete studies of plant development though their growth cycle and the earlier selection (estimated at six weeks) of varieties of wheat that are good candidates for further study.