Caleb Grohmann, a PhD student in informatics and data science, was selected as a Future Leaders for Food and Agriculture (FFAR) Fellow. Each year the FFAR Fellowship selects PhD students from universities around the country. Grohmann was selected for the 2021-24 cohort.
“The FFAR Fellowship is a great opportunity to network with other PhD students from different universities,” said Grohmann. “Everyone has such diverse backgrounds and it’s been interesting to learn about everyone’s research.”
Grohmann, who is originally from Red Bud, Illinois, grew up on a commercial hog operation, Cedar Ridge Farms. His family produces commercial breeding stock that they sell internationally and domestically.
“Growing up on a farm, that’s where my passion for animal agriculture began. More specifically, my passion for commercial pig production,” said Grohmann.
Grohmann graduated from the University of Missouri (MU) College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) with a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences in 2018. After receiving a bachelor’s degree, he attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for his master’s degree in animal sciences, with an emphasis in applied swine sciences. After his master’s degree, he decided to return to MU to pursue a PhD in informatics, with an emphasis in bioinformatics.
Twenty-six first-year PhD students were selected for the FFAR fellowship. As a cohort, over the next three years they will attend a series of professional development workshops. Grohmann recently attend the first workshop at North Carolina State University.
“At this workshop we were mentored on leadership development, communications skills and presentation skills. Not only did we do that, but we got to network with our fellow FFAR fellows,” said Grohmann. “We got to talk with each other about our research and our backgrounds. There are a wide variety of research focuses within the group. It was interesting to learn about everyone’s interest and research focus.”
In-person professional development workshops, like the one held at North Carolina State University, will take place two to three times a year. Other workshops will be held virtually throughout the year.
In conjunction with the workshops and professional development, part of Grohmann’s research is funded through the FFAR Fellowship. Each student is also matched with an industry partner, where their funds also get matched. Grohmann’s industry partner is The Maschhoffs LLC and gets to work with data collected on their farm.
Through his fellowship, Grohmann has been working with The Maschhoffs LLC, finding regions of a pig’s DNA genome that have changed over time due to selective breeding. The team will use the regions identified to increase predication accuracy for economically relevant traits within The Maschhoff’s genetic program. Grohmann will also be working with data from remote sensors on commercial weaning to market farms. These operations collect daily information on a wide range of environmental conditions. Advanced analytical methods will then be utilized to identify patterns in the environmental data. These methods can help predict certain events such as pig morbidity and mortality within each farm. Morbidity and mortality are two measures in the swine industry that are critical to producer sustainability, profitability and pig well-being.
“We as a swine industry are in a critical time where technology is rapidly changing,” said Grohmann. “On-farm technology is becoming more advanced each year and as a result, producers and researchers never have had more data at their fingertips. The swine industry needs to adopt practices to allow us to analyze, manage and turn this data into something farmers can repeatedly use to make accurate, real-time decisions.
“Essentially I am working with a lot of large data sets. Hopefully as a part of my research, we can help farmers identify the best pigs and production practices, that will result in the greatest success of their farm over time.”
Grohmann is advised by Jared Decker, associate professor in animal sciences and core faculty in the informatics and data science institute. Grohmann has taken methods developed in Decker’s lab for cattle and testing it on pigs.
“I really wanted to get into data science but apply it to animal agriculture. Once I found out Decker was a faculty member in animal sciences and informatics and data science, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to bring both of those worlds together.”
After his degree, Grohmann hopes to be a lead data scientist at an animal agriculture company, setting up and envisioning the data strategy for that company.
“The experiences in the FFAR Fellowship so far have been great and it’s a great honor to be awarded this fellowship. It is going to open my eyes to areas in my personal development that I haven’t thought of in the past.
“This opportunity is helping me network and build connections in the agricultural industry that will last a lifetime. It’s also teaching me how to effectively communicate my findings to a diverse range of audiences, a skill that will be invaluable throughout my entire career.”