Data, data everywhere…but is it helping your analytics?

Data, data everywhere…but is it helping your analytics?

Tim Bean

23 January 2024

When offered the opportunity to lead VSNi into its next phase I leapt at the challenge.  Having spent a couple of years with VSNi in a purely commercial capacity I knew what a difference our software could make in the global challenge to feed an ever-increasing population against the backdrop of climate change.  A year after stepping into the challenge I’d like to share some reflections on my time with VSNi.

I came to VSNi following a career utilising data to make better, more informed decisions in a variety of commercial sectors such as telecommunications, utilities, and retail. I had limited experience in biosciences, but I immediately connected with the sense of purpose in both VSNi and the wider industry to maximise the use of data to accelerate improvements in crops and animal or aquaculture production. I felt our company vision “to see the challenges of global food production eradicated through the effective application of data, analytics and technology” was spot on.  The importance of data in the plant and animal breeding sector could not be overstated, serving as the bedrock for informed decision-making, precision breeding, and the development of resilient and high-yielding varieties. 

Here’s a quick reminder of where data is enhancing opportunity for those involved in breeding programmes.

Genomic Insights:

  • The use of bioinformatics and genomics allows for a comprehensive understanding of an individual's DNA, enabling the identification of specific genes associated with desirable traits.
  • This molecular-level analysis accelerates the breeding process, leading to the development of crops with desired characteristics in significantly less time compared to traditional methods.

Optimal Variety / Line Selection:

  • Data-driven approaches enable breeders to select optimal varieties/lines based on the analysis of extensive datasets.
  • Incorporating environmental factors such as soil type, climate, and disease prevalence ensures that the resulting crops are well-suited to specific food production systems.

Continuous Monitoring and Improvement:

  • Data analytics empower breeders to monitor the performance of varieties / lines over multiple growing seasons, identifying patterns and trends.
  • This iterative feedback loop informs breeding decisions, allowing for continuous improvement in crop performance and adaptation to changing conditions.

Climate Change Resilience:

  • The impact of climate change on food systems is addressed through data analysis, anticipating challenges posed by unpredictable weather patterns, extreme temperatures, and emerging pests.
  • Historical climate data helps breeders develop crops with resilience to changing environmental conditions, contributing to the sustainability in the face of climate challenges.

Remote Sensing and High-Throughput Phenotyping:

  • Remote sensing technologies and drones facilitate high-throughput phenotyping, providing real-time monitoring of genotype performance.
  • This continuous data stream allows for quick adaptation to changing environmental conditions and enhances the development of germplasm with enhanced stress tolerance.

In summary, precision breeding through data analytics not only expedites the delivery of ‘traditional’ benefits through the breeding process, but it also enhances the resilience of crops to withstand new challenges posed by climate change. 

With all the above being the case I quickly noticed that, when it came to data and analytics, the challenges faced by plant and animal breeders were frighteningly similar to those faced by professionals in the commercial sectors I’d previously worked in; namely that in order to undertake good analyses it is critical to have ready access to good, clean, accurate and relevant data. What was equally clear was that the rapidly increasing availability of new data sources and significantly larger datasets poses as much a problem as a benefit to statisticians and data scientists in breeding as it had (and still does) in, for example, telecommunications. 

In short, whilst breeders want to design, implement, and process breeding trials in a faster, more precise, efficient, cost-effective way they are increasingly wrestling with burgeoning data management challenges relating to the sourcing, gathering, cleansing, and consolidating of data.  Often not a core skill to analysts, this task proves time-consuming, expensive, and sometimes inefficient.

How VSNi can help you

VSNi has a rich and proud heritage stretching back many, many years in data analytics designed specifically to support plant and animal breeders (although our products are used in more varied sector applications too!). Our people are amongst the most experienced and knowledgeable in their field, motivated by the unifying desire to deliver our vision. 

You may already be familiar with our software products - Genstat, ASReml and CycDesigN – as they’re used across the globe by thousands in academic, not-for-profit, and commercial organisations.  But fewer realise that through our consulting and technical services team, VSNi is supporting customers to specifically tackle the data challenges described above, assisting them to develop the systems and analytical pipelines they need, enabling them not only to harness the vast data resources they may be struggling with but also to make best use of that data for better experimental design and complex analyses. That is where we can really help your organisation to gain efficiencies and make a big difference in developing a sustainable food supply. 

And it doesn't just have to be about throwing more resources at the problem. Our team can help you unlock the hidden potential within your existing data, making your breeding programme more efficient with the tools you already have. Imagine, with minimal investment beyond what you're already doing, you can optimise your selection processes, predict outcomes with greater accuracy, and ultimately develop superior varieties faster. It's about leveraging your data to its full potential, not just collecting more of it. That's how VSNi can help you achieve significant efficiencies and make a lasting impact on the future of food security, all within your current economic and operational framework.

Finally, I’d reiterate that at VSNi we are always looking for new partners to work with, whether to help our customers by adding new features to our software or analytics, to expand services or customise them to your needs. And of course, we are always keen to hear from anyone who thinks that our software, consulting, and technology services may help them to unlock the insight in their data quickly, accurately, and effectively.

About the author

Tim Bean has extensive commercial and marketing experience gained in telecommunications, utilities, retail, life sciences and the third sector, as well as being a successful independent consultant.  A Fellow of the Institute of Data & Marketing for 20 years, he specialises in using data and analytics to support decision making for commercial and marketing applications.  Away from work Tim is a lover of music, comedy and cricket, but above all a family man.

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