Virtual farming software predicts environmental impact of crop changes

dssat
© DSSAT

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that global food production will need to double in the next 40 years to feed all of us, but doing so will involve more than just planting more crops. Farmers know that many variables can effect the health of the soil and a successful harvest from tillage rotation to changing crops, but it's hard to predict the outcome of all of those variables, especially when you're changing more than one thing.

Thankfully, researchers at the Technical University of Madrid are working on software that uses simulation models to "virtually farm" a piece of land and inform farmers, governments and other interested parties how different agricultural practices will effect the environment and the food supply.

Called DSSAT for Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer, the software has been used in over 100 countries for a few years now to take some of the unpredictability out of farming, but a new release (DSSAT v4.6) brings much more powerful simulations and predictions to the table.

The university says, "The model predictions were compared with the information of 16 years of research where the combined effect of tillage and rotations of cereal were measured. The cereal production, barley and their rotation depended exclusively on rainfall frequency.

The models captured properly the observed trends and were helpful explaining the results. The combination of conventional tillage with a cereal-legume rotation provided better results. However, the reduced tillage enhanced the soil quality compared to the conventional tillage. Those environmental aspects, which in a short-term are unnoticed, can show up thanks to those models."

The new system will be able to assess the financial risks and environmental impacts of different farming models. In Spain where water limitations can be severe, the program is helping them to figure out successful agriculture models that also conserve water -- information that could help many other areas of the world too.

Tags: Agriculture | Computing | Farming | Technology