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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Syngenta and Soybean Seeds

In Informs.  The use of analytics in agriculture:

" ... At first blush, the problem seems relatively simple and inconsequential: How do you breed a better soybean seed?

It turns out that the soybean, like many of Mother Nature’s living organisms, is incredibly complex; a soybean is comprised of 950 × 106 genome base pairs [1], which makes traditional cross-breeding a costly, time-consuming, trial-and-error process based on a trillion possible design options and iterations while cross-breeding selected plants with other plants with promising traits  – with no apparent near-optimal solution in sight.

The problem quickly becomes even more complicated when environmental constraints are taken into account. Simply cultivating more land and using more water and fertilizer are no longer viable options in order to boost production. And so the problem becomes: How do you optimally produce a better soybean seed and therefore a more productive soybean crop on the same amount of acreage without additional irrigation and fertilization?

And then you have to take into consideration the big picture: In a world where providing food for an ever-growing population is perhaps humanity’s greatest challenge, a world where soybeans are a vital source of protein for humans as well as livestock, how do you provide an environmentally sustainable solution to improve soybean crop output through more efficient plant breeding? ... 

That was the problem facing Syngenta, a global Swiss-based agribusiness that makes and markets crop seeds and agrochemicals. The company’s innovative and cost-saving (to the tune of $287 million) answer – utilizing high-end analytics to improve food supplies for an increasingly crowded planet – resulted in it winning the prestigious 2015 Franz Edelman Award for distinction in applications of analytics, operations research and management science.    ....  " 

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