DataHarvest: delivering large-scale research field trial capabilities to the UK crop R&D sector

Lead Research Organisation: National Inst of Agricultural Botany
Department Name: Genetics and Breeding

Abstract

Research context
In recent years, much attention has focussed on the development of resources that underpin genomics and bioinformatics in key crop species. This includes funding for assembling complex crop genomes and enhanced understanding of how genes function and interact. Whilst crucial for unlocking potential productivity gains to support food security, there is now a gap in capacity for experimental field trials, undertaken at scale. Such research trial capabilities are core to delivering crop research outputs to plant breeders, growers and the wider agricultural industry.

In this proposal we request funds for a high-precision research plot combine capable of harvesting a wide range of crops, including all UK grown cereal and legume species. This will help safeguard the delivery of research field trials at the NIAB-Cambridge site for the next 5-10 years. It will underpin delivery of the diverse breadth of crop research and pre-breeding activities carried out by NIAB, routinely undertaken in partnership with other universities, institutes and industrial partners. Therefore, it will provide a highly accessible route for UK crop researchers to deliver a substantial portfolio of high-quality research to deliver outcomes aligned with BBSRC's high-level themes in 'Tackling Strategic Challenges' ('Bioscience for Sustainable Agriculture and Food') and 'Building strong Foundations' ('Infrastructure' and 'Collaboration, Partnership and Knowledge Exchange').

The equipment requested will be accessible within the context of NIAB's extensive trials facilities and associated crop research capabilities and expertise - so maximising the potential for wide uptake by the crop R&D community.

Aims and objectives
The aim of this proposal is to purchase a Haldrup C85 plot combine to support UK crop resarch with impact. The combine will be equipped with on-board near-infrared (NIR) spectrometry (the first in use in UK agricultural research), allowing on-combine measurement of grain protein content, an important criteria for determining grain quality and end use. It will also provide automated straw weighing, allowing accurate assessment of crop biomass (an important indicator of the ability of a crop to efficiently convert energy into harvestable product), and include integrated GPS functionalities for guided route planning and GPS data stamping.

Potential applications and benefits
NIAB delivers in excess of 100,000 arable and forage trial plots per year, of which 15,000 are combinable research plots. These are currently delivered using two Haldrup C85 plot combines, one of which is at the end of its replacement threshold. The requested equipment has new on-combine features not currently in use in the UK crop research sector. It will directly benefit NIAB's research delivery (currently £11 million of BBSRC investment), and catalyse access to high quality research field trials from public- and private-sector partners and collaborators.

Technical Summary

We request funds for a Haldrup C85 plot combine equipped with on-board near-infrared (NIR) spectrometry (first in use in UK agricultural research), straw weighing and GPS functionalities. A number of recent advances highlight the progress of new 'omic technologies towards delivering increased rates of genetic gain to farmers. However, without the underpinning infrastructure, proposed here, to link these technological and knowledge advances to gains in the field (interacting with and responding to the local environment and the soil), it is not currently possible to effectively integrate these opportunities to maximise outcomes for the crop breeding industry, growers and end users.

The proposed infrastructure will be used to deliver existing and new projects by NIAB and our academic and industrial collaborators under the BBSRC Strategic Plan high-level themes in 'Tackling Strategic Challenges - Bioscience for Sustainable Agriculture and Food'. By increasing the suite of traits captured by real-time data collection at harvest, it will help establish new UK standards for the collection of field-based research data, therefore supporting accelerated crop improvement. Research programmes undertaken by NIAB and its academic and/or industrial collaborators will be directly supported by the equipment, falling into five main categories:

1. NIAB Genetics & Breeding projects to increase genetic gain in UK combinable cereal crops and deliver UK public goods.
2. Industry-linked projects contributing to economic development in UK biosciences.
3. Collaborative international development projects to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
4. Cambridge Centre for Crop Science (3CS) projects: lab to field assessment of impact.
5. Statutory trials underpinning the UK crop industry.

Planned Impact

This request for the purchase of a Haldrup C85 plot combine, equipped with on-board NIR spectrometry, straw weighing and GPS functionalities will have three major beneficiaries:
1. NIAB, UK and International crop researchers, collaborators and partners.
2. The commercial private sector.
3. Wider UK stakeholders in the agri-food industry: including policy makers and the wider public.

Specifically:
1. The NIAB Crop Genetics & Breeding Department currently has 27 active BBSRC projects worth £11 million, representing significant BBSRC investment in translational crop science research. The requested plot combine will secure delivery of all current field-based projects and add significant value with new on-combine features (NIR spectrometry, straw weighing and GPS) that are not otherwise currently available. It will also secure against delays caused by the current age of our two existing Haldrup plot combines, and allow an expansion of the capacity available to academic partners. NIAB has an extensive network of contacts and collaborators in the crop R&D community. This includes all BBSRC funded institutes working in crop science (John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research, Roslin Institute), and academics in the UK (e.g. Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, UCL) and abroad (e.g. CIMMYT, ICARDA, INRA, Wageningen University, ICRISAT). In particular, partners without large-scale UK trialling capacity will benefit through access to state-of-the-art harvest data including NIR spectrometry and whole crop biomass weighing.

2. A number of private sector partners will benefit from the provision of this combine as a component of NIAB research trialling. This includes commercial plant breeders (NIAB has current projects with BASF, DSV UK, Elsoms Seeds, KWS UK, Limagrain, RAGT Seeds Ltd., Saaten Union) who will benefit from a higher density, throughput and quality of data from collaborative research trials. End-users (NIAB has current projects with Pepsico and Nestlé) are becoming increasingly engaged with applied crop research, and the added functionality (particularly NIR recording in real-time at harvest) will add value to collaborative projects.

3. The purchase of this Haldrup C85 combine plays a small but important role in progressing data-driven agricultural R&D in line with the recently introduced Agriculture Bill. The project also provides an ideal opportunity to communicate the issues around sustainable intensification to a wider public audience and to engage the general with the topic of food security. Demonstration of a large piece of agricultural machinery supporting translational crop research provides a good back-drop for engaging the public in issues around sustainable food production and implementing agricultural policy.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Within the NIAB Genetics & Breeding team our work aims to harness the scale of phenotypic data generated in the field, usually collected by a research plot combine harvesters. As the universal piece of machinery for harvest of all major UK combinable crops (wheat, barley, oats, triticale, linseed, oilseed rape, maize, sunflower, peas, faba bean, and other legumes) they remain the premier phenotyping tool when selecting for productivity. NIAB operates the UK's largest research trials operation and currently delivers in excess of 100,000 arable/forage trial plots per year. Current levels of mechanisation of research field trial and plant breeding nursery management are also standardised across the UK public sector institutes offering a unique opportunity to leverage the power of multiple datasets. We believe that there is benefit that could be gained from unifying the vast quantity of combine data that would allow unprecedented data generation potential for the UK arable sector.
Following the 18ALERT funding we have published an article "Crop research at scale" in the quarterly NIAB Landmark magazine (circulated to ~2500 agricultural industry stakeholders in the UK) to highlight the importance of field-based R&D at scale. This has initiated numerous conversations within the industry about harnessing the value of large-scale trialing. We are planning future grant submissions based on these discussions and will have the Haldrup C85 on our stand at Cereals 2020 (the UK's largest arable farming event).
Exploitation Route Following the 18ALERT funding we have published an article "Crop research at scale" in the quarterly NIAB Landmark magazine (circulated to ~2500 agricultural industry stakeholders in the UK) to highlight the importance of field-based R&D at scale. This has initiated numerous conversations within the industry about harnessing the value of large-scale trialing. We are planning future grant submissions based on these discussions and will have the Haldrup C85 on our stand at Cereals 2020 (the UK's largest arable farming event).
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description Following the 18ALERT funding we have published an article "Crop research at scale" in the quarterly NIAB Landmark magazine (circulated to ~2500 agricultural industry stakeholders in the UK) to highlight the importance of field-based R&D at scale. This has initiated numerous conversations within the industry about harnessing the value of large-scale trialing. We are planning future grant submissions based on these discussions and will have the Haldrup C85 on our stand at Cereals 2020 (the UK's largest arable farming event).
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Heredity Podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Heredity Podcast "The crop specialist: an interview with Dr Alison Bentley": understanding the work that NIAB do and the motivations behind pursuing a career in applied crop science. Also a highlight on the need for large-scale field work to understand what happens in the field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.nature.com/hdy/podcast
 
Description Invited lecture UEA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited MSc lecture at University of East Anglia "An Introduction to NIAB" covering current R&D approaches, especially large-scale trialling (12/12/19)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Landmark 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact NIAB Landmark article "Crop research at scale" describing BBSRC 18ALERT investment at NIAB in the purchase of a new research plot combine allowing scaling of field-trial research. Landmark is circulated electronically and in hard copy to NIAB's 2500+ members (agricultural industry stakeholders).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description NFU conference presentation "GM & beyond: enabling innovations for plant breeding" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation as part of a formal panel at the NFU Annual Conference discussing the role of new breeding technologies for boosting agricultural productivity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description NIAB Open Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact 25/6/19 - field demonstration at NIAB Open Day including work on wheat nitrogen response (CINTRIN), use of large-scale trial data (DataHarvest) and development and selection of pre-breeding material (Germplasm)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.niab.com/shop/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=2920
 
Description Oxford Brookes seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited seminar at Oxford Brookes University "Bridging the gap - resources and applied research underpinning crop improvement" (28/11/19) including a full day of discussions on opportunities for collaboration. Including potential plans for value-added collaboration on grain imaging for micronutrients (MillNETi) and root system architecture (CINTRIN)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description UCAM seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited seminar at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge "21st Century Crop Science Women" (17/10/19) including discussion of opportunities for collaboration and enquiries about fellowship placements at NIAB.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019