High-Tech Tools Tackle Ag Management
McGinnis July 26, 2007
New, high-tech tools developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are helping farmers and
managers make better-informed decisions by assessing the economic and
ecological outcomes of different management practices. ARS is the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief
scientific research agency.
Profitable environmental management relies on a variety of factors,
and balancing economic and ecological interests can be challenging. To assist
managers in this task,
Bergtold, an economist at the
National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, Auburn, Ala., is working with colleagues
to develop two user-friendly tools--an economic model and a farm payment
calculator. The Conservation Systems Learning Tool model predicts how
profitable various crops will be under different management systems. The Crop
Profitability Calculator evaluates how factors such as conservation incentive
payments and practices influence the profitability of crop enterprises.
Bergtold's research also investigates whether conservation practices
are being accepted, maintained or intensified, and why. For example, he and his
colleagues have nearly completed a study that examines how factors such as
demographics, farm characteristics, management practices and personal beliefs
influence southeastern farmers who could qualify for economic support by
adopting conservation practices.
Understanding the incentives that lead farmers to embrace conservation
could help program developers, researchers and policymakers transfer
conservation technology more successfully.
Whittaker, a hydrologist in the
Forage, Seed and Cereal Research Unit, Corvallis, Ore., is helping to
develop a two-model system to evaluate conservation practices. First, an
economic model chooses different management decisions, such as the amount of
chemicals to apply. Then that information is fed into the second model to
evaluate the environmental effects of different economic decisions.
Whittaker is also speeding up economic analysis with a massive,
custom-made parallel computer called a "Beowulf cluster." This is a very large,
very fast, problem-solving computer--or rather, a cluster of inexpensive
computers linked via Ethernet.
Technology like this enables faster analysis of various conservation
practices' effects. This, in turn, enables managers to quickly decide whether
to keep up, step up, or switch up their efforts for maximum benefit.
about the research in the July 2007 issue of Agricultural Research