Can New Technology Help Plant Breeding Decision Making?

Plant breeding has historically been a highly “hands on” process. Breeders and their team use their hands, eyes, and legs to collect phenotype data to evaluate genotypes in their program. The breeding team spends time walking the field, measuring traits from plot to plot. This is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Phenotyping for some traits is a major bottleneck in maximizing the efficiency of the plant breeding process. Advances in sensor technologies and drones have the potential to replace the eyes, hands, and legs investment in the field to make millions of measurements in a short time frame. This is called high throughput phenotyping (HTP). HTP could make it more cost-effective to look at more phenotypes. The more phenotypes that are evaluated for each genotype, the easier it is to find the ‘one in a million’ cultivar which will eventually reach the producer. Plant breeding is a numbers game: the larger the volume of phenotyping we can do, the greater the probability we have for genetic gain. Capitalizing on high throughput phenotyping technology could improve the evaluation step in the breeding process and accelerate breeding accomplishment.