Exploiting novel canopy sensors for improved disease management, variety selection and resilience in wheat

Commercial production of wheat crops in the UK is currently highly dependent on timely applications of fungicides to optimise yield and the development of improved varieties by plant breeders with resilience to diseases and abiotic stresses. The bottleneck is now in the ability to conduct field-based discovery and evaluation of traits (phenotyping) which are currently laborious, time consuming and inefficient. This project will therefore develop canopy sensor phenomics platforms, based on chlorophyll fluorescence and hyperspectral imaging systems, which will allow a high throughput and detailed evaluation of crop performance. Chlorophyll fluorescence signatures for estimating photosynthetic efficiency in the field will be developed to provide early signatures for biotic (Septoria) and abiotic (drought) stress on wheat. Firstly, this system will be developed in glasshouse conditions on ‘stands’ of wheat and secondly in-field to relate these to crop management decisions and breeding selection. We will also develop hyperspectral canopy-sensor signatures to enable imaging across wider wavelength ranges (300-2300 nm) and larger plot areas and with a higher throughput than is currently used for in-field crop monitoring: A high throughput, automated imaging system using a hyperspectral camera mounted on a tractor will be used to produce a spatial map of a complete field experiment. Data sets will be mined to identify a new metric from a subset of wavelengths predicting key traits, e.g. canopy green area, crop biomass and N content. A key objective here will be to investigate the feasibility of replicating hand-collected and tractor mounted hyperspectral datasets using UAV mounted sensors for aerial imaging. The high-throughput canopy sensors (ground-based and aerial) will be tested as decision tools and provide a step change in the efficiency of wheat predictive agronomy and breeding and a basis for improving wheat for UK farmers, processors and consumers.