INDIA – A study led by a team of researchers from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Fraunhofer Development Center for X-ray Technology (EZRT), has demonstrated the potential of X-ray radiography for a rapid and non-destructive determination of key market-related traits from X-ray scans of peanuts while still inside the hull.

Consequently, the evaluation process for peanut pods is now quicker and easier to complete. A single specialist can now complete the task, which took three to five expert professionals 30 minutes, in just two minutes.

Thus, it is possible to accurately and quickly assess peanut pods for crucial market-related traits like kernel weight or shelling percentage using an X-ray scan of intact, unshelled peanut pods.

“ICRISAT crop researchers pointed to the important gaps frequently restraining the Indian farmers from reaping the benefits of their hard labor, and researchers from rapid breeding of improved crops. The collaboration helped us to adapt our technology so that the gaps can be closed,” Dr Stefan Gerth, Head of Department, EZRT said.

Fraunhofer EZRT is an internationally leading research and development center in the area of non-destructive monitoring along the entire materials value chain of the product life cycle.

According to Dr. Sunita Choudhary, a scientist with the Accelerated Crop Improvement Program at ICRISAT who specializes in crop physiology and modeling, the use of X-ray technology can revolutionize agriculture research, which has traditionally relied on antiquated manual methods or time-consuming laboratory testing methods to identify crop post-harvest traits.

Breeders of groundnuts at ICRISAT can now scan up to 100 samples in a day and choose the optimum variety for the season in a quarter of the time that is typically required.

New AI-based algorithms were created as part of the study to accurately predict the physical characteristics from X-ray radiographies of complete peanut pods.

The X-ray radiography-based techniques are being incorporated into groundnut breeding pipelines as a result of their success.

Breeders of groundnuts at ICRISAT can now scan up to 100 samples in a day and choose the optimum variety for the season in a quarter of the time that is typically required.

The computer tomography (CT)-system enabling such analysis is available at ICRISAT headquarters in Hyderabad, India.

Dr Janila Pasupuleti, Cluster Leader – Crop Breeding, ICRISAT said currently, advanced image processing algorithms for ‘virtual shelling’ are standardized for estimating shelling percentage, kernel numbers and mass.

“We are expanding these algorithms for estimating the seed size distribution and others. So, one X-ray scan used for determining multiple traits is more cost and time-efficient than the manual process we have been following” said Dr Pasupuleti.

Diversifying use of X-ray radiography

In order to estimate other commercially important features, such as milling recovery, for a variety of other crops, including rice, oats and barley, and pigeon pea, the processing algorithms that enable “virtual shelling” are also being investigated.

“We are also exploring the usage of X-ray radiography and tomography–based methods for testing seed embryo viability. In gene banks, a large number of precious seed samples need to undergo germination tests to check the seed viability every few years,” said Dr Sunita Choudhary, Scientist, Crop Physiology and Modelling, Accelerated Crop Improvement Program, ICRISAT.  ​ ​

The researchers say that the study has demonstrated that X-ray radiography may be the ideal technology for the in-field assessment of farmers’ produce that the International Committee for Food Value and Safety demands.

A portable X-ray imaging device will be extremely helpful in grain value chains where the time required to evaluate the economic value of grain by threshing or milling has proved to be a substantial barricade.

In the near future, ICRISAT and EZRT will collaborate to help these grain value chains undergo the essential technological transition.

“Substituting the manual procurement methods with the use of suitable technology could standardize and accelerate the procurement process in the future. It also allows fair procurement cost estimation for the primary producers and all stakeholders across the value chain,” said Dr Jana Kholova, Cluster Leader Crop Physiology and Modelling, ICRISAT.

ICRISAT collaborates with global partners to create novel, scientifically supported solutions to combat hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and environmental degradation for the 2.1 billion people who live in the drylands of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

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