Data-Driven Strategies and Machine Learning Shaping the Future of Agriculture

Finalists-teams-Syngenta-Crop-Challenge-in-Analytics
The five finalist teams for the 2018 Syngenta Crop Challenge in Analytics during the award ceremony at the 2018 INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research in Baltimore, MD.

Last week I attended the 2018 INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics & Operations Research in Baltimore, MD. Among the activities of the conference, several teams of researchers from universities and industries were competing in challenges to show how their work is influencing the world. I had the honor to be among the finalist teams for the 2018 Syngenta Crop Challenge in Analytics.

The Syngenta Crop Challenge in Analytics was established in 2015 with funding provided by prize winnings awarded to Syngenta in connection with its receipt of the 2015 Franz Edelman Award for Achievement in Operations Research and the Management Sciences. This year’s Challenge asked participants to develop a quantitative framework for predicting corn hybrids performance in new, untested locations. The basis to develop such a model consisted of a real-world dataset with soil and weather information from the previous 15 years and hybrid performance in 150,000 tests from the previous 10 years. There was also information on 20,000 genetic markers for each hybrid tested. The main challenge of such task arrives with the complex interactions between environment and genetics.

Five finalist teams, two from Brazil and the others from Colombia, Germany, and the U.S. presented their models and results. All models were based on modern machine learning methods developed to deal with complex datasets, rather than the traditional statistical methods developed specific for plant breeding analysis. Our team and the team from the U.S. used Deep Learning as the main model to deal with the interactions. The teams from Colombia and Germany used Random Forests and the other work from Brazil used a Bayesian Network. The winners were the team from CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) in Colombia, with the work: “Speeding up maize hybrids breeding schemes using machine learning”. This is an important demonstration of how scientific and technological developments in other areas can affect agriculture.

Another important fact to mention about the finalist teams is that most of them were composed of agronomists. Although data analysis may not be one of the priorities in most undergraduate courses in agricultural related fields, this subject has gained interest among students. The ability to understand the implications of the results of any method may be more important than understanding the model itself. For the machine running the model and making the predictions, numbers are just numbers, no matter what is their real life meaning. However, for fine-tuning the model, even the state-of-the-art methods still need some model definitions and hyperparameters to be inputted by the people conducting the analysis. At this point, understanding the whole problem can make a significant difference in prediction performance.

One of the points where all this intersects with precision agriculture is when we add another important factor in our model of crop response: management. It is not only the genetic interaction with the environment that affects yields, the interaction with management practices also plays major importance on yields. Every decision a farmer or crop consultant makes even before planting and until harvesting the crop will affect the final output. Data-driven strategies such as the ones developed for this challenge have a great potential to help the industry breed better seeds, consuming less time and resources. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Other data intensive farm management technologies, considering the whole production system and based mostly on on-farm-trials, can be used to fill the larger gap, which is to account for the management interaction. Once enough data is gathered and robust models are developed, we can expect larger increments in yields every year. This will play an essential role to answer the question of the challenge: How will we be able to grow enough food to meet world demand?

Leave a Reply

Data Management Stories
Data ManagementInfoAg News: Farmobile Launches DataEngine, Streamlines DataStore Buyer Process
July 17, 2018
Busy times these days out in Overland Park Leawood, KS, for ag data startup Farmobile, as they continue to – Read More
Farmer-Tablet
Data ManagementAgriculture’s Next Breakthrough: New Technologies Are Driving Efficiency, Data Insights
July 3, 2018
We live in an exciting time in agriculture. Not only is technology advancing rapidly, but the understanding and comprehension of Read More
Data ManagementThe Most Overlooked Asset in the Agtech Revolution
June 25, 2018
There is no doubt that advancements in genetics, precision agriculture, and innovative farming practices have all played an instrumental role Read More
Soil-Corn-plants-field
Data ManagementRemote Soil-Sensed Management Zones Help Increase Crop Input Efficiency
June 18, 2018
Accurate prescription maps are essential for effective variable rate technology (VRT) fertilizer application. Grid soil sampling is frequently used to Read More
Trending Articles
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Precision Agriculture” — What’s Your Vote?
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More
AmericasRaven Name to Grace New South Dakota State University Facility
June 27, 2018
According to a press release issued by the company, Raven Industries was recognized today in the naming of South Dakota Read More
dropcopter
DronesNew York Apple Orchard Claims World First in Pollination by Drone
June 18, 2018
Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard in LaFayette, NY, is the first orchard in the world to use drones to pollinate Read More
JDandPessl
Sensors/IoTJohn Deere, Pessl Instruments Team Up to Create Opportunities
June 18, 2018
John Deere is best known for its line of tractors, combines, sprayers, and implements. However, in an effort to help Read More
Matt-Waits-featured
Decision Support SoftwareSST’s Matt Waits: Innovative Data Solutions Key to Transforming Global Agriculture
May 31, 2018
Proagrica, part of RELX Group, earlier this year acquired U.S.-based precision agriculture solutions company, SST Software, in a move set Read More
Latest News
Data ManagementInfoAg News: Farmobile Launches DataEngine, Streamlines…
July 17, 2018
Busy times these days out in Overland Park Leawood, KS, for ag data startup Farmobile, as they continue to – Read More
Agrible
Grower Services & SolutionsNutrien Drops $63 Million to Acquire Agrible
July 16, 2018
Nutrien announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Agrible for total consideration of $63 million, Read More
Industry NewsFarmobile Acquires Prime Meridian, Taps Cubbage as New …
July 13, 2018
Farmobile today announced an agreement to acquire the assets of Prime Meridian, a precision agriculture data management company based in Read More
group-photo
DronesPrecision Agriculture Takes Flight at North Carolina St…
July 13, 2018
Take a walk into the Suggs Laboratory for Precision Agriculture and Machine Systems and it’s hard not to be impressed, Read More
Skeketee-IC-Weeder
DronesAutomated Weeders Have Arrived in Vegetable Fields
July 12, 2018
The vegetable production areas of the Central Coast of California have lifted vegetable cultivation to a high art, writes Richard Read More
AgJunction, InfoAg 2014, Autosteer, GPS
Industry NewsAgJunction Settles with Raven in Patent Infringement Su…
July 12, 2018
AgJunction Inc., a leader in advanced guidance and autosteering, has settled a patent infringement lawsuit it filed against Raven Industries, Read More
Retailer-Grower-tablet
Business ManagementTaking Measure of the Precision Agriculture Program: 6 …
July 12, 2018
In the overall agriculture market, the rhetoric surrounding emerging technology over the past half-decade has been nothing short of breathless. Read More
raven-slingshot-job-generator-job-sync-1
Industry NewsNew Raven Slingshot Advancements Will Help Save Time, R…
July 11, 2018
Raven Industries, Inc. has announced several new services available on the Slingshot and Viper 4 platforms: Job Generator and Job Read More
Onsite-logo
Industry NewsAgIntegrated Acquires Exclusive Licence to Satshot’s Im…
July 11, 2018
AgIntegrated, Inc. (AGI), a leader in precision ag data integration and software development, and Satshot, a leader and pioneer in Read More
Australian Harvest
Australia/New ZealandAustralian Agritech Plants Blockchain for Efficiency
July 11, 2018
“Agritech” at one time would have meant new equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters, but today it refers to Read More
Tomato-crop-India
AsiaIndia: Using Artificial Intelligence for the Good of Fa…
July 11, 2018
After graduating from IIT-Madras, the first thing that Vivek Rajkumar did was to buy four acres near Thiruvananthapuram and start Read More
BrightFarms
Industry NewsForbes List of Innovative Ag-Tech Companies Includes Gr…
July 9, 2018
Forbes magazine recently posted a list of the 25 most innovative ag-tech startups in 2018, which includes a few companies Read More
AmericasNutrien Ag Solutions Brand, New Digital Platform Launch…
July 9, 2018
Nutrien (formerly Crop Production Services) has officially rebranded its retail business to Nutrien Ag Solutions, aligning the company’s retail operations Read More
ISPA-Yoshua-Bengio
EventsHighlights from the 14th International Conference on Pr…
July 9, 2018
The 14th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA) presented by the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) was held in Montreal, Read More
TerrAvion
Industry NewsTerrAvion Integrates Aerial Imagery with John Deere Ope…
July 6, 2018
TerrAvion, Inc., a large volume provider of aerial imagery to agriculture, has announced an integration to allow TerrAvion’s aerial imagery Read More
Farmer-Tablet
Data ManagementAgriculture’s Next Breakthrough: New Technologies…
July 3, 2018
We live in an exciting time in agriculture. Not only is technology advancing rapidly, but the understanding and comprehension of Read More
Nebraska-Storm
Precision IrrigationNotes from the Field: A Look at Irrigation Management P…
July 2, 2018
One of the things I love most about my work is making periodic treks into the field – more often Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
EventsAssociation Seeks Definitive Definition of “Preci…
July 2, 2018
More than two-dozen definitions of precision agriculture have been identified through the years — but which is the best and Read More