Ground Cover Supplement : GC Supplement - New farm products and services
GROUND COVER NEW FARM PRODUCTS & SERVICES 10 OBJECTIVE MEASUREMENT & QA INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVE ON QUALITY ASSURANCE Richard Waterworth, managing director of Becker Underwood, believes the Australian Legume Inoculants Research Unit (ALIRU) represents an authority on the testing of rhizobia inoculants and would like to see its position maintained. He supports the introduction of wider ranging quality assurance (QA) systems, but only if one set of standards is agreed to by the whole industry. "It is much better that the industry is self-regulating, therefore we need to establish a transparent and useful system of quality assurance that services manufacturers and growers," he says. "We also need to establish how products will be measured and to have agreed interpretation of these measurements." More information: Richard Waterworth, 02 4340 2246, email@example.com A SYSTEM DEVELOPED BY Dr John Dell, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Western Australia, to track missiles for the US military is providing the foundation for the development of equipment that can rapidly test physical, chemical and some biological soil properties. Dr Dell's data collection device uses infrared spectroscopy, however it differs considerably from the infrared spectrometers found in the laboratory. Basically a spectrometer shines a beam of light, consisting of infrared wavelengths, and measures the wavelengths that are reflected from the surface of the object. The reflected data is called the spectra. The reflected wavelengths provide a signature for specific properties, for example organic matter (OM) reflects different wavelengths to clay. "Laboratory equipment for measuring mid and near infrared is relatively large and expensive, and contains sensitive moving parts," Dr Dell says. "Using microelectronic technology we have reduced the size of the spectrometer to about the size of your thumbnail." The revolutionary spectrometer design has no moving parts. Instead a small tuneable filter is inserted in front of the detector. The tuneable filters allow all the near infrared (NIR) and some of the mid infrared (MIR) wavelengths to be detected by a microspectrometer. Having no moving parts the microspectrometers are robust and unaffected by movement and vibration, which are problems faced by conventional spectrometers. Their size and design makes them relatively cheap and they are able to acquire data rapidly. All these are factors required for a rapid in-paddock soil sensor. "We know our microspectrometer design can reliably and repeatedly collect spectra for moving objects or while in motion, but we have yet to establish if it can detect the spectral information required from a soil sample." Laboratory equipment gathers spectra data at a finer resolution and for a greater range of wavelengths than the microspectrometer. The next phase of Dr Dell's research is to establish if the microspectrometer is able to provide sufficient data for useful assessment of soil characteristics. "Calibrations for soil characterisation based on MIR and NIR data are still being developed and there is much modelling required before we will know if the device is sufficiently sensitive. "We are working in parallel with several other GRDC-funded projects looking at the use of infrared spectroscopy for soil analysis." If you are concerned about the vulnerability of a row of thumbnail- size spectrometers mounted on the harvester or spray boom, Dr Dell is confident there is no need to worry, as the final device, including the box holding the electronics, would be at least as large as a cigarette packet. However, as the microspectrometer does not penetrate deep into the soil, it is more likely to be used in conjunction with automated soil-coring equipment to provide on-the-spot readings to depth. □ GRDC Research Code UWA00113 More information: Dr John Dell, 08 6488 3112, firstname.lastname@example.org Standards for new inoculant product formulations are currently under review. With support from the GRDC, diagnostic tools are being refined and developed to test large numbers of samples and identify and count specific organisms from mixed cultures and a range of formulations. Systems of rapidly determining rhizobial numbers in inoculants containing highly diverse microbial communities -- by growing on culture medium rather than by plant infection -- are being developed for the increasingly popular non-sterile carrier inoculants. However, the plant- infection test remains critical to determining the infectiveness of rhizobial strains and their ability to 'fix' nitrogen after manufacture. Development of QA procedures for pre-inoculated seed and other muliti-strain inoculants is progressing successfully. Evolution of the current voluntary QA system to an independent system managed by ALIRU, which would test all commercially available products, is supported by inoculant manufacturers. ALIRU is perceived as a truly independent agency, however there are several steps to be addressed between 'in principle' support and the adoption of a new system. It is hoped that adoption of this proposal will increase growers' confidence in the use of rhizobial inoculants and potentially create a blueprint for QA systems for other microbial inoculants, which are increasingly available in the market. □ GRDC Research Code DAN00097 More information: Dr Ros Deaker, research fellow and collaborating scientist with ALIRU, University of Sydney, 02 9351 2222, email@example.com; Elizabeth Hartley or Greg Gemell, technical officers, Australian Legume Inoculants Research Unit, 02 4348 1948 Small on size, big on data Microelectronics are enabling small, robust spectrometers that can rapidly gather soil data on-the-go MICROELECTRONICS REDUCES THE SPECTROMETER TO ABOUT THE SIZE OF A THUMBNAIL.
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