AFBI and UCD partner for €8 million crop improvement project

Northern Ireland’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and University College Dublin (UCD) have teamed up as part of an EU consortium for a plant variety testing project.

The InnoVar project has received €8 million in funding from the EU’s Horizon programme and, as well as being co-led by the AFBI and UCD, will also involve the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the north’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), as well as several other bodies across Europe.

The aim of the InnoVar project is to “draw knowledge and expertise from across crop science, bioinformatics, soil science, meteorology, and computer science to develop and deliver methods and tools to achieve greater efficiency in variety testing processes”.

In a statement, the AFBI said that this would “enable farmers across Northern Ireland, Ireland, the UK and the EU to maximise the potential of their land, in terms of both yield and environmental sustainability”.

The project will look to identify crop varieties that can maintain performance with lower agro-chemical inputs and under more extreme climatic conditions.

The initiative will see workshops set up for testing specialists, stakeholders and invited experts from across the EU.

The researchers will be applying technologies such as phenotyping, phenomics, genomics and machine learning.

A database will be developed containing historic phenotyping data, and this will be expanded and updated to include the capture of phenotyping data from standardised variety trials procedures ongoing across the EU.

One of the key developments from the project, according to the AFBI statement, will be an app to provide a ‘decision support system’ to allow growers select crops that are best suited for their agro-climatic region, end-use and growing scenarios.

InnoVar initially focuses on wheat, and will then apply the same approach to provide ‘roadmaps’ for other crop groups.

The project comprises 21 bodies and agencies from across 10 EU member states, and is set to be completed over the next four-and-a-half years.