CHAP teams up with PhenomUK for disease detection workshop

Dr Alex McCormack reflects on the PhenomUK/CHAP workshop, held on 3rd December, which examined novel technologies for pre-symptomatic disease detection in a range of UK crops.

Prof. Tony Pridmore from Nottingham University kicked off the event providing an overview of PhenomUK, a BBSRC-funded Technology Touching Life Network, which aims to build on new advances in engineering and physical sciences, to promote and develop plant phenotyping and its transfer into plant science and agriculture. This is achieved through a series of events, such as the annual UK conference on crop phenotyping, and a series of workshops that develop and introduce new research communities to plant phenotyping. They are also able to help enable workshop creation, networking events and pilot research projects through a series of grants.

Following this Dr Harry Langford, CHAP Innovation Network Lead, presented an overview of CHAP, one the UK’s four Agri-Tech Centres, and its role in advancing innovation uptake within the agricultural sector. Key to this is a UK network of world-class research facilities. He particularly highlighted the Digital Phenotyping Lab in partnership with Rothamsted Research and the Phenotyping and Soil Health Facility with Cranfield University and Agri-EPI. He also explored CHAP’s phenotyping projects such as SlugBot and one examining black grass.

Plenary presentations consisted of a mixture of industry and academic representatives, providing an overview of new technology and its development into applied tools and services for agronomists and growers. Agricultural consultant Keith Norman, discussed new and current technology along with the importance of early disease detection to improve disease management. This included novel sensors for spore detection, imaging platforms and services provided by CHAP members Fotenix and Hummingbird Technologies, through to new ideas such as volatile organic compound (VOC) detection using a mobile phone and trained sniffer dogs.

This led nicely into the next talk, in which Ben Curtis, Project Manager at RoboScientific demonstrated the use of VOC for detecting diseases and problems in stored crops, along with some recent work on internal defects in swede with CHAP partner AHDB. He also showed how the technology was becoming more portable, from a shoebox-sized store device, to handheld VOC devices that could be used in the field.

Next, Tim Boor, Research Consultant at CHAP partner ADAS, examined the use of aerial imaging to improve clubroot detection in oilseed rape and to better map areas requiring intervention. Using this approach enabled growers to cut costs and combat the disease more effectively by targeting lime applications. He also showcased a new project with partners in Canada, RootDetect which aims to build upon this work.

Finally, Dr Ji Zhou from CHAP partner NIAB, examined the use of phenotyping and other ‘omics’ tools to better understand crops. He showed how his team used backpack Lidar equipment to map and model field plots in 3D, integrating this with other data, such as aerial imaging or genomics, to better examine crop growth parameters and their genetic basis for improve plant breeding.

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