Wetenschap - 1 januari 1970

Computer aided planning of cropping system could double farm incomes in

Computer aided planning of cropping system could double farm incomes in

Uruguay

Vegetable farmers in Uruguay have had a hard time in recent years. Prices
for their products are decreasing and, due to soil erosion, yields are also
decreasing. In response to these developments, farmers are having to
intensify their cropping systems to make enough money. A new computer model
made by PhD student Santiago Dogliotti shows that this is exactly what they
should not be doing.

Doing the opposite however, decreasing the area of vegetable cropping,
allowing more fallow in their rotations, and at the same time integrating
cattle breeding into their system, could increase yields. In fact,
according to Dogliotti it should be possible for farmers to double their
incomes by adopting these practices. The reason farmers don’t do this,
Dogliotti says, is that farmers are not capable of thinking up a long-term
strategy but only react with short-term solutions to the problems they are
facing. The main advantage of the computer model that Dogliotti made, is
that it shows farmers alternative cropping systems that are suitable for
their situation and that will yield more in the long term. In this way, it
might be possible to encourage farmers to think more strategically.

What is new about Dogliotti’s model is that it is the first to link model
making to real farming systems. First Dogliotti made a model that comes up
with all possible cropping rotations at field level, given the existing
soil types. Unlike other models, that only calculate cropping rotations
that experts think would perform well, Dogliotti calculated all possible
rotations. The second model that Dogliotti made, ‘SmartFarmer’, enables one
to combine different cropping systems in a farm system. He simulated the
optimal farming system for seven real farms in the south of Uruguay, and
the results led to the conclusion that less intensive cropping, more fallow
and integration of cattle breeding would double the income of the farmers
while at the same time halving the erosion at the farm.

The model is still too complicated to be used by farmers themselves, as
they generally do not have enough understanding of computers. They are
unlikely to run the model on a laptop in their backyard, although that is
already happening in an almost similar situation in Australia. What could
be done however is that extension workers, either employed by the
government or by farmer groups themselves, could show farmers the options
that the model yields. Dogliotti will return to the University of Uruguay
where he used to work and will continue to work on putting the model into
practice. He hopes to get funding for a development project that will make
the model usable for extension workers.

Joris Tielens

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