Crop Tech Corner

By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) — This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.

NEW TOOL AGAINST PLANT BUGS AND THRIPS

Look out tarnished plant bugs and thrips — Bt technology is coming for you. Bt proteins have been used to target caterpillars and some beetles in corn and cotton for nearly two decades. Now researchers from Monsanto are testing a Bt protein that is effective against both the tarnished plant bug (lygus) and thrips — the cotton industry’s two most damaging pests. Scientists originally identified the protein as a good candidate for plant bug control, and the thrips were a happy surprise, said University of Tennessee entomologist Scott Stewart, who has been working with protein since 2014. "It’s pretty impressive in terms of thrips control," he told DTN. Initial research has shown that the protein might perform more impressively against thrips than it does against plant bugs, but more testing is required before scientists nail down its exact efficacy, Stewart added. The protein won’t be a silver bullet for either pest, and growers will likely still have to supplement their pest control with insecticides, he said. "But it should reduce insecticide use, and we hope to see more consistent yields from it," he said.

The trait is in the field-testing phase and has yet to wind through the U.S. regulatory system, so it won’t be in fields for several years. The new technology can’t come soon enough for Southern growers, Stewart said. Thrips are evolving resistance to seed treatments that have been used for decades, and industry doesn’t have alternatives in chemistry to manage plant bugs and resistance, Stewart said. "It’s coming at a good time –there’s definitely a need for some new technologies in cotton," he said.

See a University of Tennessee press release on the trait here: http://bit.ly/….

GIANT ROBOT SCANS CROPS

The University of Arizona is bucking the micro-technology trend with a new, 30-ton robot called the Field Scanalyzer system. The system is installed at the university’s Maricopa Agricultural Center, where desert conditions allow researchers to study the effects of drought and heat on crops. The Field Scanalyzer consists of an enormous steel gantry cane that moves back and forth above a 1.5-acre crop field on two 200-meter steel rails, taking images of the crop below, energy sorghum. It collects a mind-boggling amount of data per day — 5 terabytes, or 5 trillion bytes– with an image resolution under 1 cm. The University of Illinois will be handling the data analysis, according to a UA press release. The images will provide a continuous stream of information on plant height, leaf surface area, biomass, heat tolerance, water stress and other phenotypic reactions of the 176 sorghum lines planted in the test plot.

"The resulting high-resolution time-series crop image data will be used to train predictive algorithms and to screen diverse sorghum germplasm collections for commercially relevant traits," said Sangita Pawar, assistant dean of research administration at the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Energy sorghum used for biofuels will be the focus of the research done with the Field Scanalyzer, which is part of a government project called Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture or TERRA.

You can see a picture of the Field Scanalyzer in a University of Arizona press release here: http://bit.ly/…, and learn more about the TERRA project here: http://1.usa.gov/….

PURPLE STRAW FOR THE WIN

A long-lost Southern wheat variety will soon be back on the menu, thanks to plant breeders from Clemson University. Purple Straw — a variety noted its taste and nutrition — dates back to America’s Colonial Period, but fell out of favor in the 1970s when breeders ramped up their focus on higher yields and disease resistance, according to a university press release. Clemson University scientist Brian Ward obtained less than half a pound of the heirloom wheat seed and used it to grow and harvest 145 pounds this spring. One more season should ramp up his supplies to 1,000 pounds, and by 2018 he hopes to have several tons of seed. At that point, Purple Straw growers could "supply the wheat to chefs and distillers," many of whom have expressed interest, Ward said in the press release. "The hope is Purple Straw will eventually become widely grown across the country."

This isn’t the first time Ward has dabbled in historic plant preservation. He recently also restored an heirloom peanut called the African runner peanut. For more information on the Purple Straw project, see the Clemson press release here: http://bit.ly/…. For details on Ward’s work with the heirloom peanut variety, see another Clemson press release here: http://bit.ly/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

(Ps/SK)