Texas A&M AgriLife Research faculty members are working to find new solutions to crop production challenges using sensor technology.

Alex Thomasson, an AgriLife Research biological and agricultural engineer, and Seth Murray, AgriLife Research corn breeder, both in College Station, and others are working jointly on several projects.

One project, an unmanned ground phenotyping system (see photo below), provides data that can be used to aid decisions in breeding and production agriculture through techniques like conceptual modeling and spatial prediction, according to the scientists.

“The current ground phenotyping vehicle we are working on allows us to drive the vehicle through a field of corn and collect real-time data,” Thomasson says. “We are also developing an autonomous phenotyping vehicle that will navigate itself through the field based on GPS. The purpose of these vehicles is to be able to drive through the field even over mature corn so we can collect data all the way through its growth cycle. This allows us to measure the height of the plant, evaluate the temperature of the plant and also get light reflectance in various wavelengths to determine the health of the plant.

“We can also look at other characteristics like the drought tolerance of the plant. The data these machines collect will ultimately enable the breeder to make selections from the best varieties and to do so much quicker.”

Thomasson and other AgriLife and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists are developing the ability to use remote sensing to detect and treat cotton root rot. Cotton Incorporated has been a strong supporter of this research, some of which is occurring at the Stiles Farm at Thrall.