A Conversation with...

Dr Franklin Ilogu

Dr Franklin Ilogu is the Capability Research Associate for CHAP’s Phenotyping Lab at Rothamsted Research. He previously worked at NAIT – Industry Solutions Canada, as a Research Associate within the Plant and Seed Technologies Program and his research affiliations include the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria. Here he tells us about his work, career and influences.

How do you generally introduce yourself and the work you do in the Digital Phenotyping Lab?

I am an agricultural scientist and currently the Capability Research Associate at CHAP’s Phenotyping Lab, at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden. I’m interested in the study of plants and their responses to various challenges affecting their overall growth, development and establishment. At the Phenotyping Lab, I use multispectral imaging technology to look for answers to pertinent questions in connection with challenges affecting crop growth and development.

What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?

I start my day by getting to the lab early and going through mails and the list of meetings for the day. I take my tasks seriously with a deep sense of responsibility, prioritising my tasks and following my to-do list. My work currently revolves around the lab, polytunnel and my desk. At the moment, I’m working on the SlugBot project, so the tasks and deliverables of this project take priority. I’m involved in taking multispectral imaging of slugs in various backgrounds and annotating them. Whenever I’m not imaging in the polytunnel or in the lab I focus my attention on annotations of those images. Besides involvement in SlugBot, I also spend time on other ongoing projects and on the development of concept notes and ideas for prospective projects.

How is Phenotyping helping farmers/growers increase their yields and/or fight pests and pathogens?

Plant Phenotyping has proven to be a critical component in bringing about transformation in agricultural practices and in enhancing crop production. This makes it possible to assess the growth and development of the crop, including its overall physiology and yield. For instance, through aerial imagery and the application of precision agriculture, farmers are able to determine the optimum fertiliser requirements for their farm conditions.

In addition, the use of advanced and innovative technologies used in phenotyping has enabled the rapid and early detection of certain pests and diseases. This helps the farmer with decisions around pesticide application and the rates required. This not only enhances efficiency and yield in farming practices but in the long run can also minimise operating costs.

How does your work on the SlugBot project you mentioned fit into CHAP’s mission of promoting collaboration and innovation in the agri-tech sector? What, for you, is the most exciting aspect of this project?

The SlugBot project is led by CHAP but more importantly, it is a collaboration with commercial partner the Small Robot Company (SRC). CHAP’s role is based on our multispectral imaging capabilities, while SRC is leading on the artificial intelligence and robotics aspect of the project – a perfect example of collaboration between different organisations bringing together very different but complementary areas of expertise.

The fact that I’m involved in a project that is aimed at bringing about an innovative approach to the management of slugs in agriculture has made every aspect I’m involved in an exhilarating experience for me.

What led you to work in phenotyping? How does this fit with your wider experience in agricultural research?

As an agricultural scientist, I had for quite a long time been involved in agricultural research in the areas of plant molecular biology, plant physiology and studying plant responses to biotic and abiotic stressors. Phenotyping has broadened my scope in crop research.

Generally, crops have to contend with increasing  challenges particularly as a result of our changing and evolving climate. These challenges can include, the prevalence of pests and diseases, drought and elevated temperatures in certain regions, among others. Hence, I’m glad to be part of CHAP’s Phenotyping Lab team.

We are able to understand plant responses and their resilience to these changes and provide answers to industry through innovative research aimed at curtailing these effects on crop growth and production.

Do you have a mentor or someone whose work inspired you? Who were they and how have they influenced what you do?

I began my career in a biotechnology laboratory at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Nigeria, working on cowpea research under the supervision of Drs Bola Raji and Ivan Ingelbrecht. Their commitment and dedication to crop research influenced me a great deal.

As scientists it is our utmost desire to be able to bring our work from the lab to the outer community where innovations developed from bench could be beneficial for all mankind.

What do you think will be the biggest change in agriculture over the next five years?

I think there will be further improvements in farming practices. The uses of artificial intelligence and satellite imagery over the past few years have had significant effects in farming practices especially in understanding crop health and its overall yield. I feel there will be further advancements in this space.

Bio-stimulants have been reported as one of the fastest growing markets in agriculture. There is lots of ongoing work in this area. I feel there will be further research which will lead to the development of new products.

What advice would you give to recent new entrants to this field of research – is there something you wish you had known before you took a particular direction?

I do feel fulfilled in the path I have chosen, and it has been a rewarding experience. As for new entrants to this field of research, I advise them to be determined and courageous. They should never forget to approach each task by expressing optimism in their ability to drive innovation and sustainable solutions for the world at large.

To find out more about the Phenotyping Laboratory and the project Franklin is working on, click onto the following link to watch Focus on digital plant imaging at CHAPs Phenotyping Laboratory.

To read about the collaboration between CHAP’s Phenotyping Lab and Small Robot Company, go to SlugBot.

If you have any questions about CHAP, our Membership Scheme, or are interested in working with us on a specific project, then please send us an email at enquiries@chap-solutions.co.uk

Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.