As our world population increases and arable land for growing food decreases, AI technology such as data and mathematical modeling tools can help scientists grow more food using fewer resources. Our world needs innovative thinkers that can use AI tools to harness innovations in plant breeding. That’s why we are inviting you to help humanity face one of its toughest challenges: feeding a rising population, sustainably.
The 2017 Syngenta AI Challenge in the first of two collaborations between Syngenta and the AI for Good Foundation that focuses on bringing data and analytical modeling to the agriculture industry.
Our world is running out of cropland. We’ll add 2 billion more people by the year 2050,1 but we’re currently using our arable land and water 50 percent faster than the planet can sustain.2 At the same time, the crops farmers plant face an unprecedented set of obstacles due to increasingly limited growing conditions and climate change.
How will we be able to grow enough food to meet world demand?
Today, the agriculture industry works to optimize the amount of food we gain from each plant by breeding varieties with the strongest, highest-yielding genetics. Scientists at research and development organizations like Syngenta create stronger plants by crossing two plant varieties as parents, and then selecting the best offspring over time to provide to farmers.
The current breeding process, however, is highly technical and cumbersome. One cycle takes about nine years, requires vast testing resources and results in only moderate yield increases (called genetic gain) in crops. It includes many failures along the way.
We believe data-driven strategies can help our industry breed better seeds, faster. Developing models that identify robust patterns in seed genetic data may help us more accurately choose seeds that increase the genetic gain of the crops we plant – and will help us address the growing global food demand.
Each seed variety of any plant has a unique genetic composition and must pass through a series of “stage gates” in order to be selected by scientists to breed (Figure 1). Each year, after the data from yield tests are analyzed, breeders decide whether to continue testing the variety or discard it. At the final stage gate is the decision to offer the seed variety to growers.
Figure 1: Testing and selection scheme for the class of 2014 seeds.
Several hundred experimental soybean varieties were evaluated at up to 10 locations in 2012. After the experiments were harvested and the yield data collected, 15% of the varieties were selected to advance to the next year of testing, while the rest were discarded. In 2013, the selected varieties were evaluated at up to 30 locations with the top performing 5% selected for the final year of evaluation. Following testing in 2014, the top performing 5% of varieties were selected to become commercially available for farmers to buy. Though this is one way to select varieties, this method doesn’t show a variety’s true fitness once it is planted. Many varieties are not successful (non-elite) after they become commercial. We consider this a Type I error.
It is November 2014, and you are a breeder at the end stage of seed selection. You are responsible for selecting varieties for commercial release (Table 1). You have data from the current testing year (2014) and variety performance data from previous years.
Table 1: Data structure: commercialization year, class, and year of testing. The 2011 to 2013 classes can be used to train a model to make prediction for the class of 2014.
To develop a model that could be used to help scientists analyze large amounts of seed data more efficiently and effectively, leading to improvements in the world’s ability to grow more without using more resources.
Which soybean varieties will perform better in farmers’ fields in 2015 and 2016?
In a 5-20 page scientific write-up, explain the following:
Submission components 2-4 may refer to additional codalab.org pipelines and external models where appropriate. Submit final write-up through the AI Challenge participant portal at IdeaConnection.com, and additional models through this codalab.org competition page.
In order to help promote generalizable models, we plan to release training data for the Syngenta AI challenge in three stages.
The challenge is to identify patterns in the data that identify elite experimental varieties and expose the non-elite varieties prior to commercialization. Entries will be judged by the clarity of the solution, the technical strength of the methodology, the uniqueness of the approach, and the degree to which the evaluation data support your conclusions.
Prizes awarded will be $7,500 for first place, $5,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place. Finalists will be announced in June 2017 and invited to present at a global conference in fall 2017, where winners will be announced.
The competition is open to all participants 18 years of age or older, where allowable by law, except people or organizations who are employed by, or connected to seed biotechnology companies or their affiliates. No purchase is necessary to enter or win.
Submissions are due before midnight Eastern Time, June 1, 2017. Submissions must be made electronically via the submission form.
Submissions must be in Microsoft Word or LaTeX format using the appropriate submission template.
AI for Good Foundation is the sponsor of this contest and will be responsible for administering and judging the contest and choosing the winners. Syngenta will only have access to information necessary to assist scientific evaluation. Syngenta is not a sponsor of this contest.
Selected finalists will be invited to present their submission at a global conference in the early fall of 2017.
Prizes awarded will be $7,500 for first place, $5,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place. In the event that submissions of sufficient quality are not submitted to justify the awarding of all three prizes, the award committee reserves the right to eliminate any or all of the prize levels.
All decisions by the award committee are final. The award will be made in U.S. Dollars. All currency exchange costs are the responsibility of the winner.
The award may be subject to taxes depending on the winner’s country. Winners are responsible to comply with all tax requirements. The sponsor and Syngenta disclaim all liability for any prize recipient’s compliance with tax obligations.
Participants agree that personal data collected by AI for Good Foundation and IdeaConnection may be stored and displayed to the public within the context of the contest.
Participants represent and warrant that they have the right to submit their idea to the contest, that they are the sole and exclusive owner of the idea, and that the idea or submission of the idea does not violate any applicable law in any country.
Additionally, participants agree and warrant that they will not submit any idea that infringes on and 3rd party intellectual property, trade secret or confidentiality obligation.
To the maximum extent permitted by law, each participant indemnifies and agrees to keep indemnified and hold harmless Syngenta, AI for Good Foundation, and IdeaConnection, their affiliates, agents, directors, officers, employees, representatives and assigns harmless from and against any liability, claims, demands, losses, damages and costs resulting from any act, default or omission of the participant and/or a breach of any warranty set forth herein.
AI for Good Foundation and IdeaConnection shall have the right to use, modify and make available to the public the submitted idea for the purposes of judging, advertising, promotion, administration, testing and demonstration.
To the extent permitted by law the rules, terms and conditions for the contest are governed by the laws of Delaware without regard to conflict of law principles.
This contest is being administered by AI for Good Foundation.
Submit your questions about the challenge here. Please check back frequently for new answers.
Written submissions must be in MS-Word or LaTeX format using the appropriate submission template. You can download the submission template here. Once your solution is completed, you can submit it on the submission page. Technical submissions should be made through competitions.codalab.org/, following the guidelines described here.
Yes, a team may participate. The only requirement is that each person on the team must register and click the "Download data" link in the participant's dashboard to sign the non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Please make note of all the team members on your submission.
Yes you are eligible to compete in the contest.
The work may be published per the Data Use Agreement you sign when downloading data for the competition.
Please refer to the Data Use Agreement for the Syngenta AI Challenge.
Employees or people who are associated with large agricultural companies are not eligible to compete. Please contact us if you have any questions about whether or not you are allowed to participate.
Start: Jan. 28, 2017, midnight
Description: Register for the competition with your CodaLab worksheets account for access to competition data.
Start: Jan. 30, 2017, midnight
Description: Participants will receive data describing all varieties that were tested in the 2014 class for the year 2012, along with the experimental yield data for those varieties, geographic, soil and genetic characteristics.
Start: March 1, 2017, midnight
Description: Participants will receive data describing varieties of the 2014 class that cover all experimental trials for year 2013, indicating which of the Stage 1 varieties advanced to the following stage.
Start: May 1, 2017, midnight
Description: Participants will receive data describing varieties of the 2014 class that cover all experimental trials for the year 2014, indicating which of the Stage 1 and Stage 2 varieties advanced to the final stage.
June 2, 2017, 4 a.m.
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