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Tiny sensors taped to plants report data

tiny sensors on corn plants
TINY SENSORS: Here is the latest in fashion wear for corn plants! These tiny sensors can record data on water movement within the plant.
Hi-Tech Farming: Iowa State University technology will help quantify more processes in plants.

Iowa State University plant scientist Patrick Schnable quickly describes how he measures the time it takes for two kinds of corn plants to move water from their roots to lower leaves and then to upper leaves. It’s not a technical, precise, poster talk. He shows how low-cost, easily produced, graphene-based sensors that are super small attach to plants with tape. The sensors produce new kinds of data not available before.

“With a tool like this, we can begin to breed plants that are more efficient in using water,” Schnable says. “That’s exciting. We couldn’t do this before. But once we can measure something, we can begin to understand it.”

The ability to compare water movement more precisely is a breakthrough. So is the technology that Schnable and Liang Dong are using and developing. Dong, an engineer, and his co-workers developed the process for fabricating intricate graphene patterns on tape. Graphene is a carbon honeycomb material, just an atom thick, which conducts heat and electricity.

The ISU Research Foundation is pursuing a patent on the technology, which involves molding and 3-D printing to form sensors placed on tape.

New biological products
Monsanto is awaiting EPA approval for Acceleron B-360 ST, a seed treatment for corn that encourages mycorrhizal fungi to colonize and work with tiny plant roots to increase water and nutrient uptake. Look for approval this spring.

Acceleron B-300 SAT corn seed treatment is already approved, and thousands of units of seed were treated for the 2018 planting season. It breaks bonds between phosphorus and calcium, making phosphorus more available for plant uptake. Once the newest product is approved, the two will be combined as seed treatments for seed corn for 2019, says Kelli Brown of Monsanto.

Meanwhile, Valent U.S.A. launched MycoApply EndoPrime for 2018. Representatives say this product uses four species of mycorrhizal fungi to help improve nutrient efficiency, drought tolerance and yield potential. The product produced better yields than the control 75% of the time in 24 trials over two years, with a 4.7-bushel-per-acre yield advantage. It’s applied in the furrow. Valent introduced a new formulation for the launch that forms a pre-slurry more easily. Learn more at  

Novel fungicide in pipeline
Bayer and Mitsui Chemicals Agro Inc. (MCAG) will work together to develop and market quinofumelin, the active ingredient for a new fungicide invented by MCAG. The discovery features a new mode of action and has broad activity on many fungi. Intended application uses include fruit trees, leafy vegetables, fruiting vegetables, oilseed rape and rice. The first registration application is planned for 2020 in Japan.

Why should you care? It’s not every day that new molecules are discovered, experts say. Access to a new mode of action could help slow fungicide resistance.

AgReliant expands
AgReliant Genetics will begin converting its existing Aroma Park, Ill., location to a soybean conditioning facility instead of a corn processing site as soon as the 2018 spring shipping season ends. “Growing soybean sales have demanded an increase in our internal soybean production capacity,” says Frank Lynch, vice president of operations.  

Seed corn distribution will still happen at the Aroma Park location. AgReliant will offer local seed corn growers the chance to grow soybeans for seed. AgriGold, one of the AgReliant brands, just entered the soybean seed business within the past couple of years.

Rod Swoboda of sister publication Wallaces Farmer contributed to this story.

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