What’s Growing On: IFAS looking closely at root health using new technology

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 6:15 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Scientists with the University of Florida are using multi-spectral cameras to keep tabs on root health, specifically with coffee plants.

Coffee plants are known as a “Goldilocks” plant, one that thrives only in perfect growing conditions.

Heat and drought are the two main stressors scientists are focussing on with these plants. William Hammond, assistant professor of plant eco-physiology at the University of Florida, says if it was easy, it would be done by now.

“Initially with putting a camera underground the major goal is ‘can we even do it?’ There doesn’t exist a system right now to put below ground what’s called a multi spectral sensor. Something that can see in wavelengths that you and I cannot,” Hammond explained.

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The cameras will be able to detect the health of the roots without digging up the plant and potentially damaging it in the process. Hammond says this will likely take three years, and he wants to take it a step further to better understand a plant’s life cycle.

“The goal is to understand the limits for not only growth and function, but also for survival for land plants in response to heat and drought stress. Where’s the line where plants stop living, and start dying,” Hammond said.

He could not comment on whether or not heat and drought affect the taste of the coffee beans themselves. Hammond said different scientists may look at those factors after the experiment is further along.

These findings could potentially increase the overall yield from these plants and improve the way gardeners and farmers treat crops affected by a drought or extreme heat.

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