A professor at K-State has been awarded a grant to lead a multi-million dollar interdisciplinary agricultural study.
K-State Professor of Agronomy Stephen Welch, Oklahoma State Assistant Professor of Agronomy Phillip Alderman and Langston University Chair of the Department of Technology Franklin Fondjo Fotou were granted $4 million from the National Science Foundation to research new ways to improve crop yields, crop breeding programs and in-field management. Welch is bringing together experts in soil chemistry, genetics, engineering, crop management, computer science and other fields for the project.
The project is titled Building Field-based Ecophysiological Genome-to-Phenome Prediction and will use wheat as their example crop. As part of the project, Welch and fellow researchers will create a new computer model to better predict how different environments affect the growth and yields of different varieties of wheat by combining crop genetics and physiology along with new field monitoring technologies.
“We want to redesign the way we are approaching modeling and analysis,” Alderman said. “The goal isn’t to cobble together things off the shelf, but to take a step back and say, ‘If we know we are going to have these data coming from the field from robots and unmanned aerial vehicles, let’s build models that take that in as part of driving the model.'”
Welch said he is excited for the project’s potential to help address food insecurity.
“We have to accelerate our rate of breeding improvement,” Welch said. “There are many lines of attack on this problem, and what we are looking at is how to fit those approaches together so they can be used in concert with each other.”
A big onus was also placed on student involvement in the project, so they can get the training and experience in various fields to prepare them to do further research and work to ensure food security.
“We are learning about plant growth and how we can control it and predict production, but we are also bringing in students who can gain experience and learn from that opportunity,” Fondjo Fotou said. “It may give them a job tomorrow.”
Welch and his research associates will also be getting support from IBM Research, Topcon Agriculture, DJI and Veris Technologies in the study.