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Cyber crops

first_imgBy Sharon OmahenUniversity of GeorgiaA team of scientists has created a computer program that canmodel an entire crop cycle, from planting to harvesting, in justseconds.The software is called Decision SupportSystem for Agrotechnology Transfer, or DSSAT. It was createdby a team of researchers fromthe universities of Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Guelph and IowaState and the International Center for Soil Fertility andAgricultural Development. Planting cyber fieldsDSSAT allows the user to simulate acrop’s growth, yield, water and nutrient requirements and theenvironment’s impact on agricultural production.The program wasn’t developed overnight. In fact, the software’sfourth version was released earlier this year. About 50researchers and graduate students from across the globe met onthe UGA campus in Griffin, Ga., May 17-26 to try out the latestDSSAT software.”This software program is by no means meant to be a substitutefor actual experimentation,” said Gerrit Hoogenboom, a DSSATdeveloper and an agricultural engineer with the UGA College ofAgricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Experimental data isstill needed to establish credibility for models like DSSAT.” Not a research replacementHoogenboom also said crop modeling software, like DSSAT,is not a substitute for criticalthought. “The results you obtain from the software are not ultimatetruths, and they’re not meant to replace real experiments, realdata or critical thinking,” he said. “Anytime you use a computermodel you should question the results.”Though not a substitute for the real thing, the computer modelcan have great value to researchers, educators, extension agentsand consultants. “Computer models can provide an easy and very fast comparison ofmany different crop management scenarios and the interaction withlocal weather and soil conditions,” Hoogenboom said. Sharing information with farmersDSSAT simulates the growth of crops like peanuts,sunflowers, sugarcane, wheat, soybeans, rice, tomatoes, sorghum,millet, barley, potatoes, corn, blackeyed-peas and dry beans. Thenext version of DSSAT will be of particular interest toresearchers in the southeastern U.S. as cotton will be added tothe simulated crop list. This version is expected to be releasedin two years.The crop-simulation information gained through the DSSAT software will be shared with farmers.”Our goal is to educate the people who talk to farmers directly,”said Ken Boote, a DSSAT developer and University of Floridaagronomist. “Consultants, ag industry representatives andextension agents have the potential to spread the word tofarmers. Those farmers with interest in this technology wouldalso benefit from actually using the software themselves.”Boote says the way the software presents the data is an essentialpart of the success of DSSAT.”You can’t give numbers that no one can understand,” he said.”Our program calculates crop growth and development in amathematical sense and then presents it through graphics.”DSSAT has also been used as an effective tool after a crop hasbeen harvested to identify the source of production managementproblems.”It’s a way to see the whole picture and what is limiting thecrop,” Boote said. “The software actually works better this way.”In the early stages, the software was testedusing several years of real-crop data from Florida and Georgiafarms. Applications continue to growDSSAT has been used on food security projects in Africa and otherdeveloping countries, too, and to study the impact climate changehas on food production.”It’s been used in Arkansas to help with early-season soybeanplantings, in Kentucky for determining planting dates, in Georgiafor predicting agricultural water usage and in Africa to diagnoseyield loss of peanut crops from disease,” Boote said. “The listof applications is never-ending.”Two UGA agricultural economics students are using the program toevaluate crop insurance. They hope to show the actual risks offailure that farmers face. Two University of Florida students areusing the software to predict the amount of hay a farmer’s fieldwill produce when planted with bahia or bermuda grass.There are currently more than 1,500 registered users from morethan 90 countries using the software. “DSSAT users share their work and their data via a computerlistserver and a Web site,” Hoogenboom said. “In this way, thesoftware contributes to the whole scientific community.”last_img read more

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