Syngenta Mathematical Crop Challenge

Interview with Joseph Byrum
By Paul Wagorn
We spoke with Joseph Byrum of Syngenta to talk about the Syngenta Crop Challenge.

The Challenge is aimed at helping feed an ever-growing population by using analytics and mathematics to make better decisions about which crops farmers should plant based on the environment, climate and other data.

Syngenta Crop ChallengeYou can find out more about the Syngenta Crop Challenge here.

Here’s what he had to say:

What motivated you to donate your prize?

The desire to invite a new domain of researchers into the field of agriculture. Agriculture is a place where both the science has evolved to a point that requires a broader contribution and people can make a broad lasting social impact.

Why is this work/challenge important?

The world is facing one of its greatest challenges – how do we feed a population that is expanding at 200,000 people per day? Land, water and energy resources are being strained, making innovation more than just desired – it is critical.

Innovation in data analytics will be a major source of this innovation in agriculture. The forward edge of scientific work in agriculture, whether it drives a business or marketing decision, provides an insight into a new plant trait, or leads to a breakthrough in yield, is increasingly being driven by data. This data, generated by scientists, farmers, and consumers can only be understood with the help of math and machines.

Those who possess the skills to parse this ever-growing mountain of information will make history in many realms of inquiry. The data themselves, unless they are actionable, aren't relevant or interesting. What is interesting is what we do with information properly deployed to make people's lives better. From the birth of statistical quantum mechanics, to Darwin's theory of evolution, to the modern theory of the gene, every major scientific revolution has been driven by one thing, and that is data.

How often do ideas come from an unexpected source?

I consider this the norm. It is particularly true in seeking applied mathematical solutions in agriculture.

What would be the ideal outcome for this challenge?

Success can be defined broadly. First, connections to a new and broader network of people interested in applying their skills in agriculture. Second, any novel analytical solution that accelerates genetic gain thereby increasing food productivity.

Who are you hoping to reach with this challenge?

Anyone who has both: (a) strong quantitative skills and (b) the ability to apply those skills. Innovation can come from all types of people, from university researchers to independent experts to hobbyists, and I want to hear from all of them.

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