German seed breeder Strube is pioneering the use of in-field 3D laser scanning equipment to monitor crop growth and improve seed quality for sugar beet growers.

The portable laser scanner was developed in Germany and the company aims to bring it to the UK in the near future, says Strube UK managing director Richard Powell.

The company is already using X-ray computed tomography (CT scans) to get detailed images inside raw seed and the pellets in which they are enveloped.

Up to 100 seeds can be assessed at a time on 26 different quality parameters including size, weight and various embryo characteristics.

Until now it has been impossible to monitor what difference those measurements make to crop development in the field without destroying plants.

The continuous flow scanner can be put in the field and constantly monitors crop growth characteristics such as cotyledon length and expanded leaf area – completely non-destructively.

“You can get a remarkably detailed performance data for each seed, but it’s the information you can get from a population or batch of seed that will allow us to find positive trends and bring improvements to delivered seed,” explains Mr Powell.

Sugar beet seed technology is perhaps the most advanced of all arable crops grown in the UK and Mr Powell says there has been dramatic improvement in recent years.

Growers now expect close to 100% emergence year in, year out from the certified seed delivered to their farms, explaining the surprise of many when emergence problems came to light last spring.

A sustained period of cold weather in the spring exposed early-drilled crops to unfavourable conditions, leading to low plant populations and erratic plant growth.

“Field conditions are always going to influence crop development so you will never have the whole thing beat, particularly in a cold and wet spring.

“But this is another very useful tool in the armoury to improve genetic performance and produce high quality seed in volume,” says Mr Powell.

See also Sugar beet problems prompt seed supply changes