Thursday, 9 April 2015

Queensland data capture technology scoring well in Ethiopia

Researchers at the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) are taking on the latest technologies in plant breeding including electronic data capture using Android devices (mobile phones and tablets). The technology is being used as part of a project jointly funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and ACIAR to improve their sorghum breeding program.

Every year plant breeders and plant scientists record tens of thousands of pieces of information (called datapoints) about the lines in their breeding and research trials. The datapoints correspond to measurements regularly taken on the growing plants for example plant height, date of flowering, disease symptoms, grain yield etc. Traditionally this collection of data has been recorded by hand on hard copy field books with the information being then manually entered into computers at a later stage. Both the initial data recording in the books and the subsequent transcription on computers are labour intensive and subject to human error. The need to manually enter the data into computers also delayed data analysis, and the actions taken as a result of the analysis, by several months. 

Mr Michael Hassall, a programmer from Q-DAF, training the Ethiopian sorghum researchers in data management at the EIAR research station. Photo: Q-DAF

To improve data capture processes, researchers from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) have been developing the Fieldscorer™ App over the past 5 years. This software works on Android devices, can be coupled to barcode readers to automate further the collection of data, and has been rapidly adopted in Australia. The Australian research team are now supplying training software and devices to enable Ethiopian sorghum researchers to use the technology.

This Australian technology, available freely to all researchers, has “gone viral” in the Ethiopian research system, with EIAR sorghum researchers training their colleagues in other breeding programs and institutes, as well as many students in local universities.

Mr Abdalla Ebro (left) and Sintayehu Hailu (right) recording sorghum plants height using the Fieldscorer™ App. Photo: EIAR

In 2014 the Ethiopian researchers recorded more than 160,000 sorghum datapoints using the system: this is five times more information than was typically being recorded in the sorghum breeding program. The information is also available for analysis immediately. Increased data and early availability will accelerate the breeding program.

University of Queensland’s David Jordan, leader of the project says: “Fieldscorer is a world leading data capture system for plant scientists and it is pleasing to see how quickly it has been adopted by Ethiopian scientists. This is the first large scale adoption of the system in a developing country, and will increase the productivity of their breeding program.”

Written by Eric Huttner
RPM Crop Improvement

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