With state-of-the-art robotics, remote sensing, and data capture capabilities, Texas A&M Agricultural Research has launched “the future of agricultural research” with its multi-million dollar project Automated Precision Phenotyping Greenhouse about him Texas A&M University campus at Bryan-College Station.
“The automated precision phenotyping greenhouse will serve our research enterprise in addressing new challenges and expectations of the food system,” said Cliff Lamb, AgriLife’s director of research, during a recent grand opening event. “Our growing population will require a higher-quality food system that prevents diet-related chronic diseases and whose smallest environmental footprint uses less water and fewer inputs – these are big challenges. The greenhouse will position us as a world leader in precision agriculture.”
With Texas enduring ongoing drought conditions, the research facility will allow scientists to explore breakthrough plant crop genomic discoveries to offset one of the harshest growing environments in the nation.
Coupled with advanced genomics and big data collection, greenhouse technology can identify specific chemical compounds and accelerate crop plant improvements through breeding and genetics, maximizing productivity and stress tolerance.
Funding of research initiatives
Located at 3950 Finfeather Road at the Texas A&M Plant Growth and Phenotyping Facility, the greenhouse is funded by the Chancellor’s Research Initiative Award and matched by the Governor’s University Research Initiative Award. The additional robotic equipment is funded by an award from the Research Development Fund. The facility had an estimated construction budget of $3.5 million.
The facility features two greenhouses with robotic gantry systems, one 2,400 square feet and the other 600 square feet. Its gantry systems convey the entire length of each greenhouse. On the gantry systems are rolling trucks with long-reach robotic arms to perform various research activities, such as monitoring plant health and movement. A sensor head includes a multispectral camera and a Raman spectrometer.
The greenhouse facility also includes three additional 600-square-foot research greenhouses without robotics. All five greenhouses feature advanced LED lighting systems and 19-foot high eaves. Laboratory and field researchers also have access to a 1,500-square-foot main house equipped with autoclaves and potting tables, as well as a laser room and common-use laboratory.
‘Milestone for Texas A&M AgriLife’
“This is an important milestone for Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Y The Texas A&M University System as we continue to innovate and meet new challenges in providing solutions for agriculture in Texas and abroad,” said Jeffrey W. Savell, Vice Chancellor and Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The facility provides Texas A&M faculty with a unique infrastructure for automated precision phenotyping, significantly accelerating crop improvement progress and enabling iterative cycles of optimization and calibration.
“It will also be a platform for interdisciplinary research where physicists, biochemists, and engineers will work alongside field scientists in soils, plants, microbes, insects, and other interrelated disciplines,” Lamb said.
The new technology will help promote urban and traditional field-based row farming, he noted.
“Researchers can replicate naturally occurring environments in the field,” Lamb said. “Cutting-edge technology will allow traits to be measured autonomously with extreme precision using robots and sensors.”
Lamb said the facility will also help recruit top graduate students.
“These future scientists will learn the latest skills and technologies needed to characterize interactions between plants and stressors and work hand in hand with growers and consumers,” he said. “The greenhouse facility will help faculty attract the best candidates for graduate school and additional federal and industry funding in these areas.”
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