Meeting of the minds

GLOBAL CORN EXPERTS COLLABORATE TO DEVELOP A NEW CORN GROWTH SIMULATION MODEL

public and private researchers are working together in an unprecedented manner to develop what they hope will become the gold standard of corn growth simulation models. The results of their collaboration will have far reaching effects by providing information to researchers, policy makers, industry and, ultimately, farmers.

Crop physiologist Dr. Saratha Kumudini of Monsanto says large, integrated crop models are frequently being used by policymakers nationally and internationally to better understand the impacts of climate change and to shape policies such as those on production practices, land and water use, environmental sustainability and food security. However, these crop models are not without their limitations — which can hamper sound decision making. That’s why Kumudini is coordinating this project to pull experts together and bridge existing knowledge gaps to generate a new corn model.

“We want to ensure that the information and models being used to shape decisions are up-to-date and based on the most rigorous science and genetic material that we have available at that time,” she says.

making connections
Beginning in January 2012, monthly video conferences will connect experts in crop physiology and computer modelling from around the world. During these events, participants will contribute to various themed discussions, plus debate predictions for how they see corn growth developing under different scenarios.

Armed with the latest research on modern germplasm, the experts will be weighing in on interactions such as those between corn hybrids, environmental conditions and management practices to predict how these might influence grain yield. The group will consider yield responses to stress factors such as heat, drought, disease and pests, as well as the influence of tropical versus temperate climates, and high input versus low input systems.

When consensus is reached, each particular discussion theme will be modelled and added together until ultimately one encompassing simulation is built to best describe climate, crop and environmental influences on corn growth worldwide.

“No one person can be an expert in everything,” Kumudini says. “Though by collaborating, each person can bring their particular expertise to the table so the model is truly built on the best-of-the-best information. It’s an opportunity for everyone to advance, learn and grow.”

breaking the mold of the model
Typically these types of simulation models are built from intercomparisons, she says. The modeller looks at all the known scenarios predicted by existing models and then finds middle ground by averaging all their outputs. Kumudini says what makes this new corn model so unique is that it truly is model improvement, and not just intercomparison.

“We’re not averaging existing results,” says Kumudini. “We’re letting the world’s best researchers and modellers hash out their ideas and build consensus.” Because of this approach, the new model should be well received.

“Policy makers can be more confident and comfortable making decisions based on the predictions of this model because it was built with such a conglomeration of expertise,” she says.

working in the public domain
The process of the model’s development, testing and verification is expected to take about three years, after which the data used, the source code and the development of the computer model itself will be shared in the public domain with full disclosure.

Once released, researchers will be able to see, modify and borrow model aspects as they continue to update the model as our need for corn research and   management develops and grows, and new genetic material and unique biotraits are introduced.

Other organizations collaborating with Monsanto on this project are AgMIP (the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project), CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), Purdue University and the University of Florida. •