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Software Simulates Consequences of Changing Climate and Crop Rotation On Food Production

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DSSAT v4.5 User Interface, via DSSAT
DSSAT v4.5 User Interface, via DSSAT

As climate change becomes more and more apparent and temperatures rise much faster than ever, large areas that were once used for agriculture are now being a subject to extreme desertification and loss of soil nutrients, leading to inevitable abandonment.

At the same time, population rise and the increasing demand for food force farmers to take on unsuitable for many regions agricultural practices, which accelerate nutrient loss and decrease land productivity. Researchers from University of Madrid, however, decided to develop a software, which illustrates the consequences of such wrong practices and changing climate patterns, and demonstrate to farmers what will become of their land if they carry on with ‘business as usual’.

“If I don’t see it, I don’t believe it” is the phrase many farmers use in order to justify inappropriate agricultural practices. Driven by a demand for certain cereals or crops, these farmers tend to grow produce, which is damaging to the environment in a long run, not only because it requires much more intense irrigation, but also because usuallyit leads nutrient leaching and deserification.

Many farmers are of course aware of different practices that can prevent this, including rotation of crops from year to year to allow soil recovery, but usually selecting the suitable crops to harvest has been more of a gut feeling (or funding availability), then careful planing.

Scientists from University of Madrid, however, have come up with the ultimate solution to this problem. They developed a software, which simulates agricultural practices and creates future scenarios of what the land and the harvest will look like when specific changes to the practices are or are not applied.

The earlier version of the software called DSSAT for Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer has had an enormous success in more than 100 countries around the world, and the latest update, DSSAT v4.6, is even more powerful. The predictions are done using information on climate, tillage and crop rotation, where the weight given to each variable is determined by the conditions needed to grow specific crops.

The software is particularly useful in order to show the long-term effects of agricultural practices to farmers and governmental officials. Visible signs of poor soil quality are usually observed only when it is already too late, therefore such system can prove extremely useful when it comes to estimating risks and conducting environmental impact assessments.

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