CROP moisture can now be measured by placing magnetic sensors on plant leaves.
The developing technology will have implications not only for irrigation scheduling but for researchers trying to fast track water use traits in drought resiliant crops.
Initially developed in 2008, the Zim-probe technology was first used in bananas, then for tree crop irrigation, according to research published on the probe.
Dr Helen Bramley, senior lecturer and postgraduate coordinator of the Plant Breeding Institute, University of Sydney is using the Zim-probe to track moisture in live plant cells which is then sent through to her computer by radio waves.
“You can get up in the morning, and while you have your coffee see what the plants are getting up to. It’s almost voyeuristic,” she said.
Dr Bramley said the Zim-probe measured the hydration of an individual leaf using pressure sensors connected to magnets and was initially developed for irrigation scheduling.
“You can measure how hydrated the plant is and then develop calibration curves to determine when you should irrigate,” she said.
“We are modifying the probe, which we are trialling for cotton as well as other crop species.”
“A student on a CRDC scholarship is applying them to a farmer’s field at Walgett.”
You get up in the morning, and while you have your coffee see what the plants are getting up to. It’s almost voyeuristic
Dr Bramley said at this stage they were working on modifications which may result in a commercial model.
“We’ve had variable results, but we think we know how to modify that and improve upon it,” she said.
Dr Bramley said the Zim-probe technology was exciting both for commercial use and for research.
“We can work out what all the different parts of the plant are doing,” she said.
“We can really understand when different parts of the plant start to see the stress.
Dr Bramley said this would allow them to see how different cultivars moved water around the plant, which may result in plants better adapted to dry conditions.
“It allows us to measure how efficient the plumbing is at capturing the available water,” she said.
“Root phenotyping looks at early root traits, things like root angle, how fast they grow, the amount of branching.
“This allows us to find which ones do the the best and which will do better in different environments.”