Each variety is grown under a different cage which is automatically measured 58 times in 15-second increments during a three-day period. This is repeated over the growing season, totaling more than 635 measurements of five minutes for the plants in each cage, Wilson explained.

"We also measure detailed information on light interception, allocation of carbohydrates to different parts of the plant and uptake of nitrogen. We can get information on how much we're able to predict how a particular variety responds to a particular environment," Wilson said.

He said the more light a plant is able to intercept, the greater the plant's growth and, hence, its yield. The study is comparing results of different varieties to see if some are able to intercept light better than others.

Wilson explained that a plant uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugars, the building blocks for plant growth and respiration.

"The plant allocates the sugars to different parts of the plant -- the roots, leaves, stem, and grain -- dynamically throughout the season as the crop grows," he said. "The manner in which this allocation occurs determines whether you end up with a plant that is largely vegetative at one extreme, or ends up using a lot of its 'energy' to produce, say, grain at the other extreme."