Equipped with state-of-the-art robotics, remote sensing and data capture capabilities, Texas A&M AgriLife Research has launched “the future of agricultural research” with its multimillion-dollar automated precision phenotyping greenhouse on the campus of Texas A&M University at Bryan-College Station.
The greenhouse is part of the Texas A&M AgriLife PLant Growth and phenotyping facilitywhich also includes the Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement.
“The Precision Automated Phenotyping Greenhouse will serve our research enterprise to meet new food system challenges and expectations,” said Cliff Lamb, AgriLife Research Director, at a recent grand opening event. “Our growing population will require a higher quality food system that prevents diet-related chronic diseases and has a smaller environmental footprint that uses less water and fewer inputs – these are big challenges. The greenhouse will position us as a world leader in precision agriculture.
As Texas experiences persistent drought conditions, the research facility will allow scientists to explore breakthrough plant crop genomic discoveries to offset one of the nation’s most challenging growing environments.
In conjunction with advanced genomics and big data collection, greenhouse technology can identify specific chemical compounds and accelerate crop improvement through breeding and genetics, maximizing productivity and stress tolerance.
Funding of research initiatives
Located at 3950 Finfeather Road in the Texas A&M Plant Growth and Phenotyping Facility, the greenhouse is funded by the Chancellor’s Research Initiative Award and supplemented by the Governor’s University Research Initiative Award. Additional robotic equipment is funded by a grant from the Research Development Fund. The facility had an estimated construction budget of $3.5 million.
The facility includes two greenhouses with robotic gantry systems, one 2,400 square feet and the other 600 square feet. Their gantry systems transmit the full length of each greenhouse. On the gantry systems are rolling trucks with long-range robotic arms to perform various research activities such as monitoring plant health and movement. A sensor head includes a multispectral camera and a Raman spectrometer.
The greenhouse also includes three additional 600 square foot research greenhouses without robotic systems. All five greenhouses feature advanced LED lighting systems and 19-foot high eaves. Lab and field researchers can also access a 1,500 square foot mother house equipped with autoclaves and potting tables, as well as a laser room and a common-use lab.
“Milestone for Texas A&M AgriLife”
“This is an important milestone for Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife, and The Texas A&M University System, as we continue to innovate and meet new challenges in providing solutions for Texas agriculture and overseas,” said Jeffrey W. Savell, Vice Chancellor and Dean. for agriculture and life sciences.
The facility provides Texas A&M faculty with a unique infrastructure for automated precision phenotyping, dramatically accelerating progress in crop improvement and enabling iterative cycles of optimization and calibration.
“It will also be an interdisciplinary research platform where physicists, biochemists and engineers will work alongside field scientists in the fields of soil, plants, microbes, insects and other interrelated disciplines,” said said Lamb.
The new technology will help advance urban and traditional field-based agriculture, he noted.
“Researchers can replicate environments that occur naturally in the field,” Lamb said. “Advanced technology will allow traits to be measured autonomously with extreme precision using robots and sensors.”
Lamb said the facility will also help recruit top graduate students.
“These future scientists will acquire the latest skills and technologies needed to characterize plant-stressor interactions and work hand-in-hand with growers and consumers,” he said. “The greenhouse will help faculty attract top graduate students and additional federal and industry funding to these areas.”
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