Researchers develop Fitbit-like sensor to measure corn water use

By measuring the water use of plants on an hourly or even minute-by-minute basis, Nebraska’s James Schnable and colleagues hope to better understand and eventually improve how crops respond to drought. (Photo: Craig Chandler/University Communication)

Researchers from the University of Nebraska and Iowa State University are developing a Fitbit-like sensor for corn that will measure a corn plant’s water use.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln agronomy professor James Schnable says the sensor would fit around the stalk of the corn plant.

“It would measure how much water is flowing through the stalk of that corn plant—and how fast,” Schnable says. “So we can actually monitor differences between different genotypes in terms of how fast they’re using water under different environmental conditions.”

Schnable says that would be valuable to corn researchers. But he thinks the device could have applications for farmers as well.

“If these sensors work and we can manufacture lots of them at quite low cost—which we should be able to do—these could actually be something that farmers could deploy out in fields. Particularly areas were there are large center-pivot irrigators that have variable rate application,” he says.

The project has received a Breakthrough Technologies award from the National Science Foundation.

AUDIO: James Schnable

Link to UNL news release

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