Scholarship recipient takes to the skies

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Using drones to capture high resolution images of trial sites to enable breeders to analyse plant characteristics will be the focus of a new research project at the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus – thanks to the Peter Waite Centenary Scholarship for Excellence in Agriculture.

New PhD student James Walter is the inaugural recipient of the scholarship which was launched to mark the centenary of Peter Waite’s generous donation enabling the establishment of the Waite campus.

The first scholarship has been funded to $30,000 a year by the South Australian Grain Industry Trust (SAGIT).

James’ project aims to improve the speed and accuracy in phenotyping, which is observing external plant characteristics created by a plant’s genes, or genotype, interacting with its environment.

James said he would use drones and other technology to capture images to characterise wheat breeding yield plots to assess biomass, head density, maturity, nitrogen and other phenotyping traits.

“The data extracted from these images will then be used to develop statistical models that more accurately describe the performance of wheat varieties for breeders,” he said.

“Although DNA-based selection in now common place, field-based phenotyping is still the main method used to make genetic gain for traits such as flowering time, grain yield and disease resistance.

“I’ve been interested in technology for quite a while and wanted to find a way to incorporate technology and agriculture, so when this project came up, it seemed like a great opportunity.”

James is currently completing a SAGIT and Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funded internship at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), as the inaugural recipient of the Applied Grains R&D Internship. He is working primarily in cereal and pulse pathology and is managing a project on white grain disorder. He has previously completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences and Honours in Plant Nutrition, both at the University of Adelaide.

James will commence his PhD with the University of Adelaide in July and will be based primarily at the Waite campus. His research will be in collaboration with Australian Grain Technologies.

The Peter Waite Centenary Scholarship aims to support an outstanding future leader in agriculture through their PhD studies in the area of plants or soil science.

SAGIT chairman Michael Treloar said the scholarship, which would assist with living expenses and costs related to travel and research, would encourage the next generation of researchers.

“We really see this as an investment in the future by supporting an institution like the University of Adelaide, including both the Waite and Roseworthy campuses,” he said.

“We want to attract and retain the best and brightest young people in the industry and the scholarship gives us the opportunity to recognise those young people who have the ability to provide leadership in the agricultural sector into the future.”



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