Published on 05/21/09

Predicting crop outcomes

By Sharon Dowdy

Top agricultural scientists from across the United States met in Georgia this month to discuss ways to help farmers increase profits, optimize yields, decrease inputs and manage crops based on local weather and soil conditions.

Thirty scientists attended the Biological Systems Simulation Group meeting held May 11-13 on the University of Georgia campus in Griffin, Ga. The group included researchers from the University of Georgia, University of Florida, Texas A&M University, University of Maryland, Louisiana State University, Kansas State University, Mississippi State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as several international scientists.

Most of the researchers work in crop modeling, using computer models to simulate crop growth, yield and water and nutrient requirements.

“Agronomists across the world working together, and pooling their resources is a much better solution than people working on their own and putting a Band-Aid on the problem,” said Jeff White, a plant physiologist with the USDA Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Az. “By working together, we could have one central crop modeling source for all farmers.”

The event, the 39th BSSG conference, was organized by UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences researchers Gerrit Hoogenboom and Joel Paz.

Scientists and county Extension agents use crop modeling software to help farmers respond to and prepare for the probability of particular weather phases, said Joel Paz.

The researchers work closely with their state climatologists to gather the latest techniques in weather forecasting.

“When you’re dealing with weather, you can’t make blanket statements,” Paz said.

In the current economy, farmers are especially interested in how crop modeling programs can help them increase yields while decreasing water and other inputs.

Crop modeling is by no means a new concept. It was first developed in the early 1960s, said Jim Jones, a University of Florida agricultural engineer who has worked in the field for the past 40 years.

“Cotton was the first crop modeled,” Jones said. “Now farmers have access to models for more than 30 different crops, including corn, cotton, peanut, soybean, wheat and tomatoes.”

Through, farmers, county Extension agents and agricultural consultants in Georgia, Florida and Alabama can access crop modeling software via the Internet.

Version 4.5 of the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer, or DSSAT, software will be available in July. It was created by a team of researchers from the universities of Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Guelph in Ontario, Canada, Iowa State University and the International Center for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development.

The software is a tool for farmers and others who need this type of information to make crucial decisions based on sound science. It was recently used by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to help estimate water requirements for irrigation, said Hoogenboom.

“Other government agencies also have shown interest in using the models for climate change studies,” he said.

For more information on crop modeling, see the Web site

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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