High-throughput screening of forage crops for environmentally sustainable crop production

Improving the sustainability of agriculture requires a wide range of research from the basic to the applied, from molecular to whole organism, and from field to system level. In-field studies are irreplaceable for gaining knowledge of best practices, varieties, rotations, crop mixtures, and other factors that will make real differences in agricultural productivity and environmental impacts. However, field studies are also very labor intensive and expensive to run, which often reduces the potential alternatives that can be researched. The proposed research would increase the economic efficiency and research capacity in sustainable agriculture. The project focuses on high-throughput screening of field studies needed for sustainable intensification of forage and cover crop production. A major challenge in crop improvement programs is the high-throughput screening of dozens to hundreds of crop types/varieties that produce quality forage with high biomass. Another limitation in large-scale field research is the assessment of plant biomass fairly across a heterogeneous landscape. The proposed project will use and validate non-destructive assessment of plant biomass by unmanned aerial systems integrated with multispectral data. Three very different field studies on sustainable forage production will be assessed. Study A screens varieties and new lines of forage and cover crop winter peas, Study B assesses effects of grazing density and soil fertility treatments, and Study C compares seven, autumn-sown species as components of mixed cover crops. This research will thereby leverage materials and methods developed by the USDA-ARS Legume Breeding program, Organic and Alternative Agriculture program, and the Plant Materials Center.

Grant Information

  • Project ID: 184
  • Project Status: Complete


  • Principal Investigator(s): Sankaran, S.
  • Investigator(s): Carpenter-Boggs, L., McGee, R.
  • Grant Amount: $39,996