Monday, 05 October 2020 09:45

Adelaide uni team finds way to screen cereal crops for frost damage

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Frost damaged barley in field trials at Loxton. Frost damaged barley in field trials at Loxton. Supplied

Scientists and engineers at the University of Adelaide have found a new means that could be used to screen cereal crops for frost damage.

In a statement, the university said a study had shown barley plants could be screened for frost damage without being destroyed using imaging technology that utilised terahertz waves which lie between the microwave and infrared waves on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The study was published in the journal Optics Express.

"Frost is estimated to cost Australian grain growers $360 million in direct and indirect losses every year," said project leader Professor Jason Able from the University's School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

"To minimise significant economic loss, it is crucial that growers' decisions on whether to cut the crop for hay or continue to harvest are made soon after frost damage has occurred.

"However, analysing the developing grains for frost damage is difficult, time-consuming and involves destructive sampling."

frost damage

Barley damaged by frost seen during field trials at Loxton. Supplied

The university said frost damage could take place when the plant's reproductive organs were exposed to temperatures below 0°C during the growing season.

Crops like barley and wheat are susceptible to frost damage depending on the genetics, management practices, environmental conditions and their interactions. For example, one-degree difference in temperature could result in frost damage escalating from 10% to 90% in wheat.

The research was backed by the university's Waite Research Institute and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

"Researchers tested whether a state-of-art imaging system, at the Terahertz Engineering Laboratory in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, could be used to scan both barley and wheat spikes for frost damage," the university said.

"Terahertz waves are able to penetrate the spike to determine differences between frosted and unfrosted grains."

Professor Able said: "Barley and wheat spikes subjected to frost do not necessarily show symptoms for many days until after the frost event.

"This technology holds promise for identifying frost damage before symptoms can be visibly detected."

Researchers Dr Wendy Lee, Dr Ariel Ferrante and Associate Professor Withawat Withayachumnankul found terahertz imaging could discriminate between frosted and unfrosted barley spikes, and that the results could be reproduced over many scans. The technology was also able to determine individual grain positions along the length of the individual spike.

"This technology could possibly be developed into a field-based tool, which could be used by growers and agronomists to assist with their crop management and help minimise losses due to frost," said Professor Able.

"The technology as it stands could also be used by plant breeders to make more rapid and more informed selection decisions about the performance of one breeding line over many others."


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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