October 4th 2018

Role of Photonics in Agriculture & Food Production

The opportunities for Photonics

Last updated: October 4th 2018

A joint workshop "Agriculture and Food" was organised by Photonics21, PhotonDelta, PhotonicsNL and Wageningen University on Monday 24th September 2018. This was an active brainstorming session rather than a conference. This discussion paper is a contribition of working document prepared by PhotonDelta on behalf of the other partners.

The workshop was organised in the context of a new Photonics Multiannual Strategic Roadmap being prepared as part of the new European Framework Programme Horizon Europe. The aim of the workshop is to identify the future research and innovation challenges for photonics in the field of agriculture as well as food production and processing.

This interactive magazine is intended is a contribution to the workshop report after the event. It is dynamic and is being updated regularly..

Overview: Photonics and its contribution to the Smart Agri-tech Sector

At the second World Technology Mapping Forum (June 20th 2018) in Enschede, Rick van de Zedde of Wageningen University explained the contribution photonics may play in the Smart Agri-Tech Sector. He covers automated quality measurements, precision horticulture, phenotyping and robotics.

Understanding the plans for NPEC at the Wageningen University Facilities

Rick van de Zedde explains the plans for Netherlands Plant Eco-phenotyping Centre (NPEC) as part of the National Roadmap for Large-scale Scientific Infrastructure of the Dutch government. The NPEC facility is an initiative of Utrecht University and Wageningen University & Research. NPEC provides a versatile modular platform that will enable Dutch and international scientists, both academic and R&D, to carry out accurate high-throughput phenotyping: studies of plant performance in relation to relevant biotic and abiotic factors across a range of scales, from molecule to crop, from nm to km. NPEC is an integrated, national research facility housed by Wageningen University & Research and Utrecht University and is co-funded by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for 10 years with a contribution of €11 M. The total budget of NPEC will be in the region of €22 Million.


NPEC focusses especially on the understanding of the impact of the environment on plant growth and generates a wide range of different plant phenotypes. NPEC enables large-scale and high-precision monitoring to generate data for better understanding of plant-environment response, and its genetic control. NPEC offers multi-scale phenotyping to analyse plant performance under diverse environmental conditions and to characterise the traits contributing to performance in these multi-environment scenarios.


NPEC will allow the study of plants in relation to biotic and abiotic factors, including plant-microbiome interactions, plant-plant competition, plant diseases and exposure to a multitude of variable abiotic environmental conditions, such as light quality, irradiance levels, nutrient supply, temperature, humidity, soil pH and atmospheric CO2 levels. The performance of plants (i.e. root and shoot system development and architecture, disease resistance, herbivore attraction, irradiation use efficiency, water and nutrient use efficiency, plant-microbiome establishment, etc.) can be examined using a range of sensors, providing data from the molecular level to the level of field crops and ecosystems.


Initiated by Wageningen University & Research and Utrecht University, NPEC will serve the Dutch and international academic community and private enterprises interested in eco-phenotyping research. Dutch plant sciences research groups, more than 50 companies and several international research institutes and universities supported the NPEC proposal, and expressed their interest in acquiring access to the platform of enabling technologies provided by the facility for their research. Breeding companies, farmers and growers also have the need to understand and exploit this interaction to maximize their productivity and yields.

NPEC comprises six complementary, experimental modules

  1. In the precision mesocosm–level ECOtron (ECO) plant-plant and plant-microbe interactions both above- and belowground will be studied, at a level of cm to µm.
  2. The Plant-Microbe Interactions phenotyping module (PMI) will be used for high throughput research on plant-microbe interactions, from the molecular level up to plant organ level.
  3. The Multi-Environment climate chamber module (ME) has been designed to study the molecular basis of plant responses to multiple environmental factors.
  4. The High-Throughput Phenotyping climate chamber module (HTP) allows for automated, high-throughput screening of plant genotypes under highly controlled environmental conditions.
  5. In the GreenHouse phenotyping (GH) module, integrated whole-plant phenotyping will be carried out, testing numerous crops, from seedling to harvest.
  6. The Open-Field phenotyping (OF) module provides an outdoor mobile drone- and vehicle-based phenotyping system that can study individual plants in small plots or large fields.