Could you imaging getting data on millions of plants from 1,500 acres of crops? If you could accomplish the monumental feat, what could you learn? How could you change plant breeding and development?
Karen Plaut can't wait to find out. She is Purdue University Director of Research.
Some 18 months ago Purdue President Mitch Daniels announced that plant sciences initiatives would receive one of several $20 million dollar grants to invest in the future of research.
Plaut sees this as a chance to learn how to use phenotyping for plants like it has been used for livestock for years. Phenotyping is what individual plants look like. It goes beyond what genetics they have.
Is imagining a farm where all plants have sensors reporting key data back to a central point impossible? Plaut doesn't think so. She recently reported that ground is broken and construction is underway on the primary center, located at the Purdue University Agronomic Center, which will be the hub for this project.
It will feature space for receiving data, for pioneering and developing new technologies with unmanned aerial vehicles and other systems to get data, and other key facilities aimed at helping researchers learn how to understand what plants are trying to tell people about their growth and development.
The new facility will also include a modern drying and husking facility so that students who will someday be the leaders in the seed industry will get a better look at the technology available today in this key area. Purdue's current methods of husking and sorting at the end of the season are woefully out of date, and fragmented across the farm, Plaut notes.
She hopes that the new building will be functional in 2016. What pleases her most is that the project is drawing interest from all parts of campus, not because they have funds to work with, but because the professors from various disciplines outside agriculture see an opportunity to test theories and try out new ideas, all the while with the aim of helping develop new ways of creating better plants.
If you are at the Agronomic Research Center this summer, look for the building rising Near the Beck's Center.