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Title: Future Directions in Biological Systems Simulation - A Role for ICASA?

item White, Jeffrey

Submitted to: Biological Systems Simulation Group Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/15/2006
Publication Date: 4/13/2006
Citation: White, J.W., Hoogenboom, G., Van Ittersum, M., Jones, J.W. 2006. Future Directions in Biological Systems Simulation - A Role for ICASA?. Biological Systems Simulation Group Proceedings.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The International Consortium for Agricultural Systems Applications (ICASA) advances systems research in agriculture and natural resource management by promoting the development and application of systems analysis tools and methodologies. This goal emphasizes, but is not limited to, simulation models. This priority recognizes their increasing role in decision support efforts and in joint learning of researchers and decision makers working at scales ranging from the plot or field to national or regional levels. ICASA emerged from two major agricultural systems-oriented programs from the 1980s and early 1990s: IBSNAT (International Benchmark Soils Network for Agrotechnology Transfer; Uehara and Tsuji, 1993 & 1998) and SARP (Systems Analysis and Simulation for Rice Production; Ten Berge, 1993). Factors justifying the quest for greater collaboration included: • The need for high quality data for developing and evaluating crop models. • The difficulty of obtaining crop model inputs across space and time for real world problems. • The time and resources necessary to develop, evaluate, document, and maintain crop models. • The continuing focus on simulating potential- and water-limited yield vs. recognized limitations of models in simulating actual yields in farmers' fields. Early on, ICASA anticipated that supporters of international development would invest heavily in consortium activities. This optimism appeared well founded given concerns over sustainability and the widespread belief that information technologies (IT) could catalyze rapid economic development. Encouragingly, the Dutch government funded the “Ecoregional Fund to Support Methodological Initiatives in Agricultural Research” ( While not formally linked to ICASA, various of the Fund’s projects involved ICASA members and emphasized software tools using data standards. In a period of increasing research costs and decreasing funding, however, strong expressions of “moral support” did not translate into further funding, and ICASA reluctantly concluded that substantial funds were unlikely to come to the consortium. At the same time, research priorities, which originally had focused on plot and field scale issues, were shifting increasingly to farm or regional scales. In 2005, ICASA was reorganized with a “zero-budget” philosophy that emphasized promotion of systems research through Internet-based fora including its web site (, a bulletin board (, and a listserver. The consortium now has no budget, and membership requires no dues. Potential members only have to agree to actively participate in ICASA-related activities by: • Contributing documented, tested models or modules using ICASA standards and protocols. • Contributing data sets for use in developing and evaluating models for agriculture and natural resource management. • Contributing software tools that facilitate use of ICASA standards and protocols. • Assist in defining and maintaining data standards in order to promote interchange. • Assist in defining protocols for module design in order to promote module interchange. • Developing applications of ICASA tools, explaining their aims and the techniques used. • Promoting ICASA’s goals through training, workshops, symposia and other means. To provide more structure and focus to its activities, ICASA organizes working groups on specific topics. The first two groups addressed intellectual property rights (IPR) and data interchange standards. The IPR group developed a set of guidelines for dealing with IPR, providing links to other IPR sites and examples of licensing statements ( The standards group revised the previous ASCII-formatted standards (Hunt et al., 2001) and is adapting the standards to relational database and XML formats. Standards are expected to evolve with research interests and