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Photo: Forages and turf grasses in a field at the ARS Western Regional Plant Introduction Station in Pullman, Wash. Link to photo information
ARS researcher Laj Ahuja (left) and collaborator Jack Carlson are developing smart phone apps for farmers and field conservationists. Click the image for more information about it.

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Smart Phones Soon Will Access Agro/Environmental Model Services

By Don Comis
February 17, 2011

Soon there will be U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) "apps" for smart phones, now that the Object Modeling System (OMS) is operational. The OMS is a framework for making software applications that use the power of cloud computing to run science computer models.

Laj Ahuja and other scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) created the OMS framework in partnership with Frank Geter and others at USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Olaf David and others at Colorado State University at Fort Collins, Colo., the U.S. Geological Survey, and other collaborators. Ahuja is research leader at the ARS Agricultural Systems Research Unit in Fort Collins. Jack Carlson, retired NRCS chief information officer, is collaborating with the project.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

The OMS framework houses agro-environmental computer models and modules for building models. It has been handed over to NRCS for use and is available to anyone at: Modelers from around the world can collaboratively develop and contribute to models in OMS, as modelers from Europe are already doing. Work has begun to design applications that connect to computer model services in large data centers, often referred to as "the cloud."

Here's an example of what an NRCS app might look like: A farmer shows an NRCS conservationist the soil carried off a field after a heavy rain and asks how much soil is being lost and what can be done about it. The conservationist picks up a smart cell phone for answers. The phone's GPS (Global Positioning System) locates the field's coordinates and connects to the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation version 2 (RUSLE2) model service in the cloud to calculate soil erosion under various agricultural management practices. The answers return quickly, harnessing the power of the large data centers.

The current primary ARS application of OMS is to deliver science model services to NRCS in support of their Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative.

Every work day, NRCS conservationists service more than 5,000 conservation plans. In the past, running models has been a laborious process. OMS will improve the efficiency of using these model services for farmers by 80 to 90 percent.

Read more about the research in the February 2011 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.