Applied Research: Ground-penetrating radar could help producers dig potatoes early

Dr. Dirk Hays, plant geneticist, is using ground-penetrating radar to test for early maturing potato varieties. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Ground-penetrating radar might help the potato industry save water, according to Dr. Dirk Hays, Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant geneticist in the soil and crop sciences department at College Station. Hays’ latest project utilizes ground-penetrating radar to select early maturing potato cultivars, which can help producers make harvest decisions and increase water-use efficiency. His project is in coordination with AgriLife Research and the department of horticultural sciences potato breeding program conducted by breeders Dr. Creighton Miller and Dr. Isabel Vales, both at College Station. “We know radar will work on potatoes,” Hays said. “Radar works on detecting objects that are denser than the soil environment they are in. Potatoes are very moist versus the sandy soils they are grown in, so it’s relatively easy to image the potatoes with the ground-penetrating radar.” 

He said the early generation potato cultivars can be scanned and breeders can start selecting lines producing a high yield at an earlier rate without having massive trials and multiple harvest times. “We might be able to help them select for new cultivars that are ready at 90 or 100 days and have a harvestable product,” he said.

He said he is working with a company called IDS GeoRadar North America to optimize the instrument itself so it is airborne and flies just above the canopy. “This way we can get a three-dimensional image through a crop canopy and into the roots,” Hays said. “We can go over the yield trials multiple times through the growing cycle without damaging the vegetation.”

He said they hope to have this equipment tested as a prototype this fall with a commercial instrument available shortly after.

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