Optimizing Spatial - Temporal Aspects of Designs for Small-Scale Diverse Farms

Final Report for FW04-203

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2004: $5,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Western
State: Idaho
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information

Abstract:

SUMMARY
The software (called Land Design Evolver) has been completed and the results of testing have been encouraging. No unforeseen obstacles arose in completing the software. Bunzel Organics will now begin testing and applying the software designs at its own farm. It is expected that the development of the software will continue with the help of other developers under the open source agreement. The source code for the software can be obtained from http://users.genesee-id.com/kbunzel. This website will be improved and expanded over time.

OBJECTIVES
The plan was to create software that would facilitate the creation of a planting design for small-scale diverse agricultural operations. The design would account for any number of user-specified plant varieties. Three-dimensional spacing and the timing of plantings would be accounted for. The software would use a genetic algorithm to find the optimal solutions based on user-specified “Constraints” or “Preferences.” The genetic algorithm would allow an unlimited number of user preferences to be specified without causing the process to slow down significantly.

RESULTS
The results of the testing have been encouraging. The genetic algorithm, although somewhat slow, allows for a large set of preferences to be defined. The process can be stopped, saved and restarted again another time. This allows the user to be able to work with the design over time, modifying the preferences and continuing with the processing at convenient times.

The testing indicates that the user preferences are being honored and spatial and temporal considerations are being accounted for. Because this software is designed to be highly flexible, it can require some effort to set up the plant varieties and constraints/preferences. However, client-side applications that utilize the software engine can minimize the data input requirements as needed for custom applications.

Through testing of the application, it was determined that a method was required to allow the user to manually “plant” anywhere in the design, at any period. The manually planted areas can be set as fixed so that they don’t change over time because of the evolution from the genetic algorithm. This supports the need to establish certain plants as fixed and easily specify where they are located through an interactive method.

BENEFITS OR IMPACTS ON AGRICULTURE
Software that can find the optimal design among a vast number of possible designs will be useful for small-scale diverse farm systems. Determining a planting design that considers three dimensions, plus the timing of plantings, is often too complex for the human mind to grasp. This software will free the farmer to build complex systems that are more resilient ecologically. The software provides complete flexibility to the user and is appropriate for agricultural systems anywhere.

PRODUCER ADOPTION
The software has just been made available, so other producers have yet to use it.

OUTREACH
The software is currently available for download from http://users.genesee-id.com/kbunzel. There is a short introduction to the software. This site is slated to be expanded to explain the software in more detail. In addition, a new nonprofit corporation will be started with a website for the purpose of promoting and distributing the software as well as other education services for practicing ecological agriculture.

Cooperators

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  • Margaret Ely

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.