About the Field Scanalyzer

A world first for automated measuring of crop growth and health in the field was installed for Rothamsted Research in 2015 by LemnaTec GmbH. This is the world’s largest and most sophisticated facility built today and will revolutionise the way that crop health and growth are monitored in the field. The development of the facility has been supported by Rothamsted Research and the BBSRC. The Field Scanalyzer comprises of a gantry that supports a motorised measuring platform with multiple sensors. Crops within a 10m x 110m area can be monitored throughout the season with a high degree of resolution and reproducibility. 

The facility is fully automated and can operate 24 hours per day throughout the year. On board illumination facilitates the data collection and sensors include multi-wavelength imaging systems, an imaging sensor to measure chlorophyll fluorescence decay kinetics and a laser system for 3D visualisation and crop height determination. Together these sensors will enable detailed monitoring of crop physiology, plant architecture, crop health and plant function, with unparalleled accuracy, and will contribute to our food security and sustainability programmes. Dr Malcolm Hawkesford, co-lead of the 20:20 Wheat programme at Rothamsted Research commented: “We are delighted to have this facility at Rothamsted. As a crop scientist, I believe that this will enable us to collect arguably the most accurate and detailed dataset of crop growth and health ever.” 

The Field Scanalyzer is a milestone in agricultural research, exploring the wider potential of imaging tools to streamline the phenotyping process to better understand the physiology and genetic diversity of crops. Ultimately, this enables the capacity to generate greater research outputs within a given time, accelerating pre-breeding research. The facility will be used initially to understand the development under field conditions of numerous pre-breeding wheat varieties that have been generated through the WGIN programme supported by Defra and the Wheat Initiative Strategic Programme (WISP) funded by the BBSRC and led by the John Innes Centre in collaboration with Rothamsted Research and other university partners. 

Rothamsted aims to use the Field Scanalyzer to identify new traits derived from images that would be sufficiently robust to be introduced into breeding programmes. Indeed, data concerning plant growth, morphology as well as physiology processes, such as carbon acquisition, nitrogen capture and remobilisation, and intra-plant water movement/ evaporation could be collected across the plant’s life cycle, by other means. However, the same data set could not be collected simultaneously, and with such high-throughput. The advantage that simultaneously obtaining information concerning multiple traits creates is that researchers can now take a multi-physiological system approach towards understanding which traits contribute to the genetic diversity of complex traits, such as nutrient use efficiency. 

Currently, the facility is being used to investigate nutrient variety interactions in wheat and monitor the development of pre-breeding wheat varieties to understand the interaction between genotypes and environment for yields and yield components. This high-throughput phenotyping approach will help researchers identify new traits contributing to the genetic diversity of complex traits, such as nutrient use efficiency, and dissect their regulation using forward genetics approaches. This supports Rothamsted’s 20:20 Wheat® strategic theme, which aims to provide the knowledge base and tools to increase UK wheat yield potential to 20 tonnes of wheat per hectare within the next 20 years.