Crop Tech Corner

Eyeing Crop Growth From Space

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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As they grow, crops give off solar energy that can be measured from space and allow scientists to monitor crop growth on a large scale. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

ST. LOUIS (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.


Scientists from Stanford University are going all the way to space to estimate crop yields. According to a university media release, a team of researchers has figured out how to use the light emitted from growing plants to measure their rate of growth. As plants absorb sunlight, they release a tiny bit of solar energy back into the atmosphere in the form of fluorescent light. This light varies as the plant grows, explained Stanford scientist and co-author of the study, David Lobell. "This glow that plants have seems to be very proportional to how fast they're growing," he said in the press release. "So the more they're growing, the more photosynthesis they're doing, and the brighter they're fluorescing." The scientists can actually measure the plants' rate of growth and photosynthesis using satellites originally designed to measure gases in the atmosphere.

The team has discovered that fluorescence is very sensitive to environmental stresses and can change day to day, which gives the scientists a good picture of how plants' yield potential changes throughout the season in response to weather conditions. They hope to soon have satellites designed specifically to measure this light, which will improve the quality of their data. "In the future, we hope to directly use this technology to monitor global food production, for example in China or Brazil, or even in your backyard," said Kaiyu Guan, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford who is leading the study.

To read more about this study, see the Stanford press release here:… and the study abstract here:….


Scientists have isolated and sequenced a remarkable wheat gene that provides four-way disease resistance. The gene, Lr67, helps wheat plants resist the development of three wheat rusts as well as powdery mildew, according to a press release from the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center. The gene's identification was the work of a global team of scientists from Mexico, China, Norway, Australia and the UK.

Lr67 is among a group of three genes often called "magic genes," for their ability to combat four diseases at once. None of them permanently stop the diseases, but they all work in slightly different ways to slow disease development and can be combined to produce extremely hardy wheat plants. Now that scientists know exactly where Lr67 is and how it works, they can more easily insert it into breeding lines destined for the public, the press release noted.

You can find the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center press release here:….


Sorghum's reputation as a scrappy energy crop that adapts well to adverse growing conditions is paying off. For the second time this year, the Department of Energy is doling out more than $25 million to fund two projects, one led by the University of Nebraska and one led by the University California-Berkeley. That brings DOE funding for sorghum to a total of $55.8 million in the past six months, according to a news release from the National Sorghum Producers.

The California project will focus on the "role that epigenetic signals play over time in acclimation to and recovery from drought" in sorghum cultivars, according to a DOE summary. The goal of the project is to improve sorghum's biomass production in water-stressed environments. The Nebraska-led research team will examine how the plant, microbes, and the environment interact to control nitrogen and water use in sorghum, with the goal of finding genetic and microbial solutions for plants growing in thirsty and nitrogen-limited environments.

For more information on the projects, see the DOE research summaries here:….

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Emily Unglesbee