Using AI to improve growth of bioenergy crop Miscanthus

A new project to improve the cultivation of the bioenergy crop, Miscanthus, will involve Cranfield University academics. Miscanthus is a perennial grass plant that is commonly established by planting root components called rhizomes. The OMENZ (Optimising Miscanthus Establishment through improved mechanization and data capture to meet Net Zero targets) project is led by Miscanthus specialist Terravesta and involves various partners, including Cranfield University, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), Energene Seeds Ltd, Liverpool John Moores University, TJSS Ltd, University of Lincoln, and Ystumtec Ltd.

OMENZ will improve the entire Miscanthus establishment process, including approaches to planting material, field preparation, innovative agri-tech, new planting techniques, and cutting-edge technologies to monitor establishment in the field.

Government's Biomass program – and where Cranfield fits in
The funding for the project was announced as part of the Government's Biomass Feedstocks Innovation Programme, which seeks to contribute to 2050 net-zero targets. The OMENZ initiative was awarded £3.3m of funding. This project works to ensure biomass feedstocks such as Miscanthus are available to fuel the emerging bio-economy.

Cranfield academics will be responsible for developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) methods for monitoring the establishment and growth of Miscanthus plants using drones. Alongside, work on rhizome quality pre-planting, soil conditions, and root zone optimization to increase establishment success and the subsequent yield.  

Optimizing decisions using drones
Dr. Toby Waine, Senior Lecturer in Applied Remote Sensing at Cranfield University, said: "It is exciting to be leading the OMENZ work on monitoring the establishment of Miscanthus using drones. By using technologies such as AI, we can fully automate the detection of plants and optimize agronomic decisions."

"Information derived from the drones will also support the wider project objectives; to improve the quality of planting material, testing of biological treatments, seedbed preparation, and streamline the planting process. And once the crop is established, the remote sensing will continue to help improve crop performance."

"It's also great to work with the industrial and academic partners in OMENZ, as well as my soil and plant science colleagues Dr. Rob Simmons and Dr. M. Carmen Alamar, who are contributing their expertise on soil-root carbon and rhizome pre-treatments."

Terravesta's science and technology director, Dr. Michael Squance, said that the growth of the plant was vital for net-zero targets. "The Climate Change Committee's Sixth Carbon Budget report states that to reach net zero, 700,000 hectares of bioenergy crops need to be planted by 2050. That's 30,000 hectares a year starting in 2030."

"The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is funding projects like this through NZIP, the 'Net Zero Innovation Portfolio,' and we aim to increase the scale and quality of Miscanthus establishment in the UK."

For more information:
Cranfield University
www.cranfield.ac.uk


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