COLLEGE STATION – Shannon Baker, a research associate with Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Amarillo, was recognized with the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Director’s Technical Staff Support Award on Jan. 8 at a ceremony on the Texas A&M University campus.
The Research Director’s Awards seek to recognize and reward the achievements of individuals and teams with outstanding work to support the research mission.
Baker joined the Small Grains Breeding Program in Amarillo in 2011, and has performed every task in the pipeline, from cross-pollinating plants in the greenhouse, maintaining the large seed house, planting, harvesting, note taking, supervising technical staff, shipping over a ton of seed annually, importing and exporting seed, and data management, her nomination stated.
She became the “go-to person” for coordinating multi-disciplinary trials with the wheat genetics and crop physiology programs at Amarillo, as well as the statewide small grains research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service teams, the nomination continued. This includes managing the large dataset generated by the breeding program.
The most visible and novel new technology Baker incorporated into the wheat breeding program is small unmanned aerial systems, or sUAS, for high-throughput phenotyping, her nomination stated.
She earned her sUAS certification in April 2017, attended a two-day training in College Station in June 2017, and then ordered two quadcopters, a multispectral sensor and associated equipment with Governor’s University Research Initiative funds.
Baker conducted 32 weekly flights with both platforms on two 900-plot breeding nurseries from October 2017-June 2018. Her preliminary data analysis showed good correlation of key traits with ground-truthed notes, such as plant height, the nomination stated.
“In many cases, Shannon provided harvest data to industry collaborators the same day their wheat plots were harvested, which is weeks faster than was previously possible,” the nomination stated. “The new systems allowed earlier data analysis and decision-making for statewide advancement and commercialization efforts.”
In 2018, she purchased tablet computers and trained her team to use an available note-taking app for plant breeding. Utilizing the app’s capability to rapidly record plant heights with bar codes brought a dramatic improvement in speed and accuracy of notetaking, real-time data sharing among team members and entry into the master database, her nomination stated.
Baker also spearheaded exporting data from a new on-board, computerized weigh system on the plot combines, which was received by the program right before the 2018 wheat harvest.
Additional exposure to the small grains program was gained when she began sharing visual imagery captured by the sUAS throughout the growing season via social media, and industry partners have shared it widely and used the images in international trade presentations, her nomination stated.