How Digital Phenotyping is progressing innovation in agri-tech

Dr Tom Ashfield, head of the CHAP Digital Phenotyping Lab at Rothamsted Research explains how his work in digital phenotyping is progressing innovation in agri-tech.

When most people think of digital phenotyping, they may think of scoring crop traits for breeding or assessing a product. But in CHAP’s Digital Phenotyping Lab, here at Rothamsted, what we also do is work with partners to use imaging for the remote detection of pathogens, pests and weeds in actual growing situations.

From lab to field

This is a different sort of application than just scoring populations in a lab situation or controlled breeding situation. In remote sensing, typically, you are going out in the field to detect pests such as slugs, or disease, so you can then just spray the affected plants, rather than having to spray the whole field.

Several of the Innovate UK-funded projects that the lab has been involved in have been more focused on that, which is a really exciting development in crop science – particularly in my area – at the moment.

Developing precision technologies

We now have – or are in the process of developing – the technology that will allow us to start practicing much more precision agriculture and variable rate applications. A lot of farm equipment now has the ability to have variable rate applications. But this is only the beginning: start-up firms like the Small Robot Company have the ability to do targeted applications. It is only fairly recently that such technology has progressed to the point where it can start to be deployed on farms.

In the foreseeable future people will likely be routinely making variable rate, targeted applications, which is a big step forward from spraying a whole field at the same rate, just because that’s really the only practical thing to do.

Opportunities for collaboration

What is really exciting about something like the CHAP SlugBot project, is that it is bringing together a range of people with different expertise.

The Digital Phenotyping lab has played a part, but there are also people building robots, and people who have expertise in Artificial Intelligence (AI). And of course, there are the scientists like CHAP’s Dr Jenna Ross, with her expertise in slug biology.

In-house expertise

We have also been working with the IHCEA vertical farming facility up in Dundee and there is also potential to work with the Soil Health Facility at Cranfield University, because they also have the Agri-EPI gantry phenotyping system, which enables them to monitor crops at a bigger scale than is possible in the Digital Phenotyping Lab at Rothamsted.

That collaboration with people, organisations and companies with different areas of expertise, is what CHAP does best. It’s certainly a big bonus.

Find out more about how the CHAP Digital Phenotyping Lab can help you to progress your innovative agri-tech idea.

Reach out to the CHAP team to discuss potential project opportunities using Digital Phenotyping Lab: email us using the enquiries form at the bottom of our homepage.