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