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K-State Today

March 1, 2017

K-State, KU investigators receive $300,000 NIFA grant to study radar sensing to help gather plant trait data

Submitted by Sarah Hancock

Collecting large amounts of plant trait data in the field is difficult, especially when plant canopies are dense. Steve Welch, a professor in K-State's agronomy department, along with co-principal investigators Nathan Albin and David Steward at K-State and Carl Leuschen at the University of Kansas, has received a $300,000 grant to test a new approach.

According to Welch, wheat, rice, maize and sorghum average barely 50 percent of the annual yield progress rate necessary to meet food needs widely forecast for 2050. Breeding rates are accelerating, but technological limits impede collection of large amounts of needed plant trait data.

"This project targets Kansas wheat breeding trials, which can provide a proof-of-concept test combining microwave radar sensing with novel algorithms to improve the situation," Welch said.

The project exemplifies the networking that modern science requires. Steward, who is a professor of civil engineering, and Albin, an associate professor of mathematics, will develop key signal processing equations for the study. Leuschen, associate professor of electrical engineering, will take radar measurements, initially in a large anechoic chamber, which provides an electromagnetically quiet and controlled environment, and then in wheat fields. The researchers said their collaboration highlights the expertise universities offer to society and how their fields overlap.

"We have developed state-of-the-art radar instrumentation for monitoring the planet's ice cover at the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, and it is rewarding to see these technologies being used for other applications, and even better for applications in our own state," Leuschen said.

"It is important to have the most detailed information we can get about our changing planet, and if there are commonalities we can exploit between sensing ice fields and wheat fields, then so much the better," Leuschen said.

The grant is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research program focused on plant and animal phenomics and microbiomes. The program is a partnership with the National Science Foundation on emerging research in the areas of phenomics and microbiomes. Read more about the program.

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