What is in this article?:
- Arizona researchers tackle improved heat and drought tolerance in Upland and Pima cotton cultivars with possibly higher yields.
- Three-year-old project called “high throughput phenotyping of cotton” is led by USDA-ARS research geneticist Mike Gore, with technology input from University of Arizona precision agriculture specialist Pedro Andrade.
- Project has potential benefits across the Cotton Belt and in many different crops worldwide, including wheat, rice, and soybeans.
Precision ag tools
Andrade says precision agriculture tools will play a major role in Gore’s cultivar challenge by gathering precise information as the cultivars grow in the field.
Andrade earned his doctorate from the University of California, Davis in agricultural and biosystems engineering. He joined forces with UA research specialist John Heun to outfit a re-designed, high-clearance sprayer with high-tech sensors, GPS, and electronic acquisition instruments.
The unit travels down cultivar rows precisely measuring plant components and interactions before the equipment platform touches the plants.
“Mechanically-powered equipment moves these platforms faster through the plot and covers ground faster than a crew of workers,” Andrade explains.
The precision agriculture tools are mounted on the front boom. The equipment includes infrared thermometer sensors which measure canopy temperature, and sonar transducers which scan canopy height.
Active spectral sensors record the amount of light reflected by the plant. A rapid-moving Lidar laser captures the plant’s geometry. Three data loggers tally the data into a single mathematical algorithm.
This information is geo-referenced with serial output from a Hemisphere GPS-RTK Outback A320 ultra-precise positioning system. Additional navigation instrumentation from the Trimble CFX-750 provides steering assistance to the rig moving down the plant row and precisely turns the rig around to the next row of cultivars. The unit travels at one mile per hour.
The rig and electronic tools travel through the test plot four times a day – 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.; and 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The afternoon readings dramatically vary from the morning readings due to extreme heat.
The rig travels through the plot weekly during the cotton-growing season to gather critical data over the plant development cycle.
Andrade says, “This provides a real-time picture of how different cotton cultivars handle heat and drought season long.”
The Gore-Andrade team reviews the gleaned information to determine which cultivars better tolerate heat and drought. Successful cultivars are bred together to create the next generation of cultivars for tests.
Part of Gore’s effort to generate higher yield despite environmental challenges is generating data on the plant’s geometric stature or shape. Gore gathers comprehensive, phenotypic data designed to increase lint yields. Perhaps the plant geometry can be reinvented to spur higher yield.
Gore’s rationale is based on his previous job experience in corn breeding. About 30 years ago, corn seed was planted much farther apart than today.
Research on the corn plant’s physical structure suggested that a higher leaf angle on the stalk, including the flag leaf, increased the plant’s capture potential of sunlight. This revelation ultimately changed the industry. Corn plants today are grown closer and generate higher yields as a result.
The same, Gore says, could be true in cotton.