Crop Production Modeling

A broad range of spatially explicit crop response models is needed to evaluate the efficacy of precision agriculture methods and provide the basis for precise recommendations. Many models for predicting how crops respond to climate, nutrients, water, light, and other conditions already exist, yet most of these do not include a spatial component appropriate to precision agriculture applications (Sadler and Russell, 1997). GIS can provide the means to run the model continuously across an extensive area using data that reflect continually varying conditions. Time series and other temporal analyses can aid in predicting final crop yield. Current models may be extended to account for spatial effects, such as edge effects along field boundaries. In the ecological and biometeorological literature, however, several spatially explicit models have been developed to predict hourly, daily, and annual rates of evapotranspiration and photosynthesis, and several spatially distributed hydrologic models predict surface and subsurface flows. Mesoscale climate models can resolve cells as small as 5 to 10 kilometers for predicting weather conditions.

Pests are not dispersed evenly throughout the environment. To the extent that the factors influencing their spatial distribution are understood, their dispersion and potential for damage can be modeled. GIS can be used for spatially variable data for these factors. As with crop response models, a distinct pest model can be run continuously across a landscape, using GIS to input data to the model and display results (loosely coupled model), or a spatially explicit model can be created within the GIS software (tightly coupled model). GIS can provide the basis for multiscalar effects, for example, incorporating results of a regional pest pressure model into a system for generating within-field recommendations based on locally variable conditions.

A crop growth model could be used as a decision aid for determining different yields based on varying plant populations, which could help a producer decide when to plant or replant areas within a field based on plant population data and risk factors for various soil types. Having to make a decision to replant a field that is in a questionable condition is perhaps the hardest decision a producer faces. Any information to aid such decisions and reduce risk would be valuable.

In many crop production areas, landscape factors can cause dramatic variations in yield. Landscape elements affect many properties relevant to plant growth, including soil texture, soil organic matter, and temperature. Landscape morphology affects soil moisture available to crops by its influence on drainage and catchment area. Soil surveys typically do not have sufficient resolution to capture this variability in enough detail to support precision recommendations; even field-based sampling on a regular grid may miss relevant soil-landscape features. Stratifying sampling density on the basis of landscape features may be more cost effective and informative than a simple grid. GIS allow users to create and manage digital elevation or digital terrain models created by photogrammetric methods

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