Giant Crop-Scanner Is Turning Heads in Arizona

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week asthey showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

With its 30-ton frame and 50-foot-high catwalk, the newest scanner for measuring crop plants in Maricopa, Arizona, can be seen for miles. It looms over a tract the length of two football fields and moves along steel rails.

“When people saw this big apparatus being built here, they started asking if we were going to be looking for space aliens,” says Jeffrey W. White, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist with the Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa. Rather than studying the heavens, the scanner is measuring the individual characteristics of thousands of energy sorghum plants growing underneath it. The effort could play an outsized role in meeting the Nation’s future energy needs.

This research is designed to speed up the pace of bringing biofuels to market and is part of a program sponsored by the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) known as Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA).

“The TERRA program represents the intersection of biology, engineering and computer science. It capitalizes on public-private partnerships and is really a new horizon for agricultural productivity and sustainability,” says Joe Cornelius, ARPA-E program director.

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Source: USDA Blog