Norway: Plans for a National Plant Phenotyping Infrastructure and Virtual Reality in the Field

Vollebekk research farm at NMBU in Ås. Photo: Morten Lillemo

Vollebekk research farm at NMBU
in Ås. Photo: Morten Lillemo

Three of the leading plant science research institutions in Norway have joined forces to develop a roadmap for a national plant phenotyping infrastructure called PheNo. In other news, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) has teamed up with the plant breeding company Graminor, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico and Boston University in the USA for an innovative project combining high-throughput field phenotyping with genomic selection and virtual reality.


Plans for a National Plant Phenotyping Infrastructure in Norway – PheNo

The proposal for the national plant phenotyping infrastructure PheNo is coordinated by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) in close collaboration with the University of Oslo (UiO) and the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO) and with support from the national plant network. The aim is to serve national plant phenotyping needs as well as providing a unique Northern node for field and controlled condition phenotyping as part of EMPHASIS.

The Norwegian plant science community has access to excellent growth facilities for conducting plant experiments under controlled climate conditions at the partner institutions NMBU in Ås, UiO in Oslo and NIBIO at Holt just outside Tromsø. These comprise both growth chambers and daylight greenhouse compartments with various levels of temperature, humidity and light control as well as well-managed field trial sites. However, most phenotyping is currently done with time-consuming manual measurements. There is a great need to update current facilities with automated phenotyping solutions in order to lift the research and teaching in plant sciences in Norway to top international level.

The infrastructure proposal, which was submitted to the Research council of Norway in October 2018, includes semi-automated systems for multi-spectral 3D-laser scanning of plants to be used in existing greenhouse and growth chamber facilities at all three participating institutions. At UiO there are additional plans to install a fully automated small plant phenotyping system for Arabidopsis research, while upgraded facilities for field phenotyping using robots at drones and digitalized field trialing equipment is sought at NMBU. The northernmost node in the infrastructure is the daylight phytotron facility at NIBIO Holt close to Tromsø, which will offer unique possibilities for detailed phenotyping of plant growth and development under the unique high latitude arctic daylength and light composition.

The outcome of the infrastructure proposal is expected to be announced in September 2019.

For further info, please contact project coordinator Odd Arne Rognli


Virtual Reality in the Field – the vPheno Project

The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) is coordinating an industrial innovation project in plant breeding that seeks to combine high-throughput field phenotyping with genomic selection and virtual reality in collaboration with the plant breeding company Graminor, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico as well as Boston University in the USA.

The five-year project “Reliable and efficient high-throughput phenotyping to accelerate genetic gains in Norwegian plant breeding virtual phenomics (virtual phenomics; vPheno)” is now in its third year. It was the first project of its kind in Norway to start exploring the use of robots and drones as phenotyping tools in plant breeding. Using wheat as a model, the main aim is to develop user-friendly phenotyping tools that can be applied in practical plant breeding under Norwegian conditions. To this end, the project is working closely with the wheat breeders at the Graminor plant breeding company. The project uses UAVs fitted with RGB and multispectral cameras to collect 3D and multispectral vegetation data from field trials. This can replace the time-consuming manual plant height measurement, while the multispectral vegetation indices provide information that cannot be obtained by the human eye. For close-up imaging, the project is making use of a field phenotyping robot developed by the robotics group at NMBU and operated by Saga Robotics. These close-up images are useful for detecting and counting important plant features like for instance the number of wheat heads per square meter.

Genomic selection offers great opportunities for plant breeders to accelerate genetic gains in their breeding programmes. In the vPheno project, the Graminor breeders and the team at NMBU have partnered with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico and Boston University in the USA to improve genomic prediction models by incorporating vegetation data from the high-throughput field phenotyping into the prediction models to make them more robust.

Another vision of the project is to bring the field to the breeder by developing a virtual reality tool whereby plant breeders after the season can go back in time to have a second look at their field trial plots. This virtual world is developed by combining the image data gathered from the UAVs and the field robot at multiple times during the field season. This work is done in collaboration with the Hamar-based company Making View and a prototype is already developed for testing.

The vPheno project is funded by the Foundation for Research Levy on Agricultural Products (FFL) and the Agricultural Agreement Research Fund (JA) in Norway through NFR grant 267806 and runs from 2017 to 2021.

For further info, contact project coordinator Morten Lillemo:



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