Agriculture Victoria scientists have created the world’s largest and most detailed perennial ryegrass testing field trial in a bid to revolutionise Australia’s dairy feedbase.
The new project uses leading-edge imaging technology mounted on an aerial drone, as well as laser and sonar technologies, to accurately capture growth measurements of approximately 270,000 individual plants.
Results from the project will help triple the genetic gains in ryegrass and enable pasture breeding companies to develop better varieties that suit the forage needs of Australian dairy farmers.
Agriculture Victoria research scientist Dr Pieter Badenhorst said the impressive scale of this work is being made possible through advanced agri-technologies, big data capability and scientific know-how.
“Agriculture Victoria scientists used GPS to strategically plant each of the ryegrass varieties across the six-hectare site at the Agriculture Victoria Hamilton research centre,” Dr Badenhorst said.
“This enables our advanced imaging cameras mounted on an aerial drone to capture precise plant biomass measurements for each plant, in a flyover that only takes around 14 minutes.
“The drone data is then combined with 3D measurements taken by ground-based laser and sonar instruments to measure plant height and structure and data captured from on-site weather stations that correlate the plant growth with weather patterns.
“The combined data is then sent to our AgriBio research centre in Bundoora where computational biology specialists extract biomass measurements from the images and our genomics specialists genotype selected plants.
"This work will contribute to the development of ryegrass varieties specifically suited to the Australian environment.”
Dr Badenhorst said the project will contribute to the tripling of genetic gain in ryegrass, developing new varieties three times faster than conventional pasture breeding methods.
“Results from this ground-breaking work undertaken with DairyBio – a joint bioscience initiative of Agriculture Victoria and Dairy Australia – will generate valuable information for plant breeding companies to make more rapid and targeted improvements towards this important pasture grass.”