World’s largest precision ryegrass nursery revolutionises Australia’s dairy feedbase
Collaborative work by AVR scientists at our Hamilton and AgriBio sites – across our 'dairy innovation cluster' – has established the world's largest and most detailed field evaluation of perennial ryegrass, capable of rapidly taking precision measurements of the growth of hundreds of thousands of individual plants. This ground-breaking work enables rapid and targeted improvements in this important pasture grass. The impressive scale of this work is being made possible through advanced agri-technologies, big data capability and science know-how.
Genomic selection involves using an understanding of the genome to make selections in breeding programs very rapidly. AVR scientists were originally responsible for inventing genomic selection and using it in dairy cattle breeding in Australia. This technology has now been translated for application in accelerated pasture breeding. The use of this technology to make breeding selections to develop plant varieties specifically adapted for the Australian environment means we need Australian data.
The field trial consists of 270,000 ryegrass plants on six hectares at AVR's Hamilton site. Our staff have precision-planted every plant using GPS and are using leading-edge technologies in new ways to generate biomass measurements of every plant, every week. This is a massive advancement on conventional pasture breeding, which measures no more than a few thousand plants, just five times a year.
Advanced imaging technology mounted on an aerial drone can derive accurate measurements of every plant in the entire field in a flyover that takes just 14 minutes. These are complemented by ground-based 3D measurements using laser and sonar instruments to determine plant height and structure, and data from on-site weather stations to correlate growth data with weather patterns.
AVR computational biologists at AgriBio work together with the AVR team at Hamilton to develop the computational pipelines that convert the images into biomass measurements. Our scientists have used experience and analytical capability to solve new and complex data challenges, like how to extract the growth data of hundreds of thousands of individual ryegrass plants each week from images generated from a range of sensors mounted on the aerial drone. Combined with matching genotyping activities undertaken at AgriBio using our next generation sequencing capabilities this work will enable the tripling of genetic gain in ryegrass. In simple words, developing new varieties three time faster.
This research project is a wonderful example of digital disruption combined with agricultural technology setting us on a path to transformative impact – in this case, via step-change improvements to the major pasture feedbase for the Australian dairy industry.
View a video of the drone flying over the field trial at Hamilton.