Background: Stalk lodging (breaking of agricultural plant stalks prior to harvest) is a multi-billion dollar a year problem. Rind penetration resistance tests have been used by plant scientists and breeders to estimate the stalk lodging resistance of maize for nearly a hundred years. However, the rind puncture method has two key limitations: (1) the predictive power of the test decreases significantly when measuring elite or pre-commercial hybrids, and (2) using rind penetration measurements as a breeding metric does not necessarily create stronger stalks. In this study, we present a new rind penetration method called the Integrated Puncture Score, which uses a modified rind penetration testing protocol and a physics-based model to provide a robust measure of stalk lodging resistance.
Results: Two datasets, one with a diverse array of maize hybrids and one with only elite hybrids, were evaluated by comparing traditional rind penetration testing and the Integrated Puncture Score method to measurements of stalk bending strength. When evaluating the diverse set of hybrids, both methods performed well, but when evaluating the elite hybrids, the integrated Puncture Score outperformed the traditional rind penetration method. Additionally, the Integrated Puncture Score was able to differentiate the best- and worst-performing hybrids, even in the elite hybrid data set. Additional experiments revealed strong evidence in favor of the data aggregation steps utilized to compute the Integrated Puncture Score.
Conclusions: This study presents a new method for evaluating rind penetration resistance that highly correlates with stalk bending strength and can possibly be used as a breeding index for assessing stalk lodging resistance. This research lays the foundation required to develop a field-based high-throughput phenotyping device for stalk lodging resistance.