TMAF supports the research work of a number of PhD students. In this next profile, TMAF-supported PhD student Lucy Tillier explains the work she is doing to understand the impact of leaf canopy architecture on radiation use efficiency (RUE) and yield potential of sugar beet.
“I’ve always been interested in agriculture. I grew up on a dairy farm in Devon. My degree studies took me to University of Nottingham where I graduated in Plant Science and it is now where I continue as a PhD student, beginning my research in October 2018 into the effect of the shape of crop canopy on yield of sugar beet.
What motivates me is to find ways to increase crop yields. Sugar beet is quite an under-researched crop compared with other major crop species. There seemed to me to be quite a lot of scope for useful research.
Sugar beet has already seen some large yield increases from breeding and improved management practices and I think my research can help further increase yields.
Seeing the light
New varieties are coming through all the time, with prostrate or upright canopy shape. The canopy architecture (the leaf arrangement of the canopy) plays a vital role in intercepting available light and the efficiency in which it is used to form yield (radiation use efficiency, RUE).
Especially in this year’s Recommended List, there are some varieties that are different in terms of height as well as leaf angle, which is quite surprising. These are the ones I will be putting in my trials this year.
The main goal is producing the most from the available land that farmers have, so by planting varieties that intercept the most light, and make the most yield from this, can increase output and profits, I believe.
No-one that I’ve seen in the literature has done work to change the position of the leaf canopy manually. So, I am going to be making an upright variety more flat, using tent pegs and collars around the plant – pulling the leaves up or down. So that’s been quite a challenge, the method development for that: gaining ideas.
I have developed a series of questions to try to answer in my research:
- To what extent do the canopy characteristics (leaf ontogeny, angle and area) differ between sugar beet varieties with contrasting canopy architectures?
- Does the optimum Leaf Area Index (LAI) differ between sugar beet varieties with contrasting canopy architectures?
- Are there differences in light interception between varieties with contrasting canopy architectures?
- Does canopy architecture affect RUE?
- Is there a non-destructive proxy for biomass accumulation using Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and other spectral indices?
- Do we need to reconsider row spacing to account for these canopy arrangements in order to optimise available resources?
- Does the N requirement differ between canopy types? How is this N distributed across the plant and canopy?
My research work is seasonal. In spring, summer autumn I’m in the field a lot of the time. Then in winter, the main tasks are data analysis and my glasshouse experiments.
In the next year, the next step in my plan is to model the plant canopy to assess which part of the sugar beet’s rosette canopy intercepts most light as well as being able to map light through the canopy.
In the glasshouse, I work intensively with up to 40 plants. In first year, in-field I had 16 plots. This next year I will scale up and have up to 40 plots with thousands of plants to observe.
This is just the second year of my research and my thesis will be complete in October 2022. I am grateful to those who support me including BBRO, the Chadacre Agricultural Trust, the Felix Thornley Cobbold Agricultural Trust as well as TMAF.
I am enjoying my research a lot as I know the findings that I discover in the crop can easily be taken up and adopted by growers and have good impact on their sugar beet yield.”
TMAF will continue to follow Lucy Tillier’s PhD research. For a profile of another student researcher we support see our news feature on Joe Martlew.