Get to know Suzanne Shirbroun and Arti Singh
IAC Farmer Representative: Suzanne Shirbroun
Suzanne Shirbroun is one of three Iowa soybean farmer representatives serving on the ISRC’s Industry Advisory Council. The council serves to identify research needs in the areas of soybean production and protection for the center. Farmer representatives serve three-year terms on the council and provide feedback on what research topics are of importance to soybean farmers.
Shirbroun farms soybeans and corn with her husband Joe and one of their three sons near Farmersburg, Iowa. They also have a Pioneer seed dealership. She serves as President-elect of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Board of Directors and is a sixth generation farmer passionate about research and conservation. She is a long-time participant in ISA’s research programs and understands the importance of conservation practices in continuing the family farm after watching her grandfather and father implement terracing into the farming operation. She has kept the terraces and currently practices no-till and contour farming and uses waterways, cover crops and pollinator plantings.
Of her time on the ISRC’s Industry Advisory Council, Shirbroun noted the importance of the collaborative decision making that happens between farmers, industry representatives and ISU researchers in keeping future projects relevant. “The agronomy sector is very vibrant and multifaceted. It's easy to get a narrow focus on certain topics or ideas. The advisory council brings together the representatives and researchers to explore each other's ideas and concepts. Let's face it, researchers use a different vocabulary and thinking process than farmers or industry companies. This is an opportunity to cut through the differences and collaborate on research decisions,” said Shirbroun.
She went on to stress the importance of continuous soybean research to farmers. “The technology available to us in the seed and beyond is amazing, but Mother Nature likes to keep us humble. New pests such as soybean gall midge and resistance such as SCN and weeds are ever emerging. We need to keep funding the research pipeline. Iowa soybean farmers have demonstrated our support for research being initial funders of the ISRC. Hopefully, more industry companies will recognize this large farmer investment and follow our example,” said Shirbroun.
Shirbroun has been on trade missions throughout Asia and the European Union. She is an advocate for investing checkoff dollars to promote U.S. soy and for educating consumers about the importance of soy. In addition to the Iowa Soybean Association, she is involved in the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP) and the Iowa Corn Growers Association. She is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in agronomy and pest management.
Researcher Spotlight: Arti Singh
ISRC affiliate Arti Singh is an assistant professor of agronomy at Iowa State University with more than 15 years of plant breeding experience. Her research focuses on harnessing genetic diversity for genetic gain, utilization of advanced data analytics particularly machine and deep learning for early disease and stress signatures and genetic/genomic studies on abiotic and biotic stress resistance.
Originally from India, Singh said her work in agriculture, particularly in plant breeding, was inspired by her father, a renowned plant breeder in India. Singh earned her PhD from G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in India and worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Saskatchewan and as a visiting scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada prior to joining Iowa State. She and husband, soybean breeder Asheesh (Danny) Singh, agronomy, were drawn to Iowa State University for its world-renown program in agronomy and plant breeding.
In 2018, the ISRC awarded Singh funding to create an app to identify stresses in soybean, which in 2019 led to a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) to expand this machine-learning research. Then, in 2020, she was part of multi-institutional award for a project titled “COALESCE” (COntext-Aware LEarning for Sustainable CybEr-agricultural systems), jointly funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and USDA-NIFA. She leads the sensing area of emphasis in this $5 million NSF Cyber Physical Systems Frontiers project and simultaneously leads technical areas of emphasis and serves on the project management team of the $20 million USDA-NIFA AI Institute grant titled “AIIRA” (AI Institute for Resilient Agriculture). The trans-disciplinary, multi-institutional team involves faculty and students with expertise in a diverse range of areas in cyber-physical systems, machine learning, cyberinfrastructure, agriculture and outreach activities.
From this collaborative effort, Singh, Baskar Ganapathysubramanian, mechanical engineering, PhD student Shivani Chiranjeevi, mechanical engineering, and other team members have created an app that identifies insects at various stages in their life cycles and determines if the insect is beneficial or harmful to crops, which she presented at the 2022 Farm Progress Show. The app can help identify more than 2,500 insect pests. The long-term goal is to connect integrated pest management strategies to the identified pests for timely control and mitigation. The app is expected to be available sometime this year.
In working with the ISRC, Singh said, “The Iowa Soybean Research Center provided me with funds to advance the AI application in soybean stress phenotyping and I am very thankful for their support. The funding from ISRC also helped my program obtain funds from federal agencies. For example, the USDA-NSF-funded AI Institute has enabled us to do transdisciplinary research with other partnering institutions to work collaboratively towards the common goal of creating the insect-pests scouting app and its deployment on rovers and drones.”
On top of her research, Singh teaches two graduate-level courses in host-pest interactions and crop improvement and supervises 3 PhD students majoring in plant breeding and 3 PhD students co-supervised in the mechanical engineering department who are working on AI applications in plant sciences.