Low-Input Crop and Livestock Systems for the Southeastern United States
Widespread adoption of low-input, sustainable agricultural practices may be the only practical solution to the multifaceted crisis of American agriculture. Although low-input farming systems are increasingly recognized as economically viable and environmentally preferable to conventional, petrochemically based agriculture, the practical problems involved in whole-farm planning have largely not been addressed. Implementing low-input, biologically based farming systems may involve growing new crops, growing old crops in new rotations and with different tillage practices, and learning new techniques for improving soil tilth and ecological pest management. Because of the new management skills and knowledge required, the transition from conventional to low-input farming is generally perceived as an uncertain and risky venture. Furthermore, federal farm programs, and the interdependencies of farming operations often make impractical the adoption of component practices that may appear attractive in isolation.
The Research and Extension project proposed here involves the use of artificial intelligence and expert systems to continue the development of a computer-based planning tool to help farmers choose whole-farm crop rotations, tillage and pest management practices that help achieve a more sustainable agriculture. Expert systems are excellent tools to deal with complex problems which require the synthesis and application of a broad knowledge base. The proposed system is call CROPS (Crop Rotation Planning System) and is a unique tool for farm-level planning. It is the only system that develops coordinated, whole-farm plans for specific farms. CROPS develops crop rotation plans for each field in a farming operation and then tests and compares the expected economic and environmental performance of the generated plans with alternatives presented by the farmer or alternative plans generated by the system. These evaluations will be based on simulation models of whole farm profits and soil erosion.
The system is being developed in cooperation with two farmers operating diverse crop and livestock farms in the Coastal Plain and the Appalachian mountain areas. The farmers will provide design advice, will test the feasibility of the system on their farms, and will cooperate with County Extension Agents and the Project Coordinators in designing the system, documentation, and training materials.
CROPS is a computer program that selects crop rotations for each field on individual farms, ensuring that the combined crop rotations, i.e. the whole-farm plan, meets the production and financial needs of farmers, while also implementing low-input, sustainable practices. Development of the CROPS system was initiated in August of 1990 with funding from the Southern Region LISA program. That grant (LS90-29) supported the first year of a three-year project. This proposed research would continue the development of the CROPS farm-level planning system for a second year. Specific tasks to be undertaken in year two are described below in the methodology section. The following objectives are the entire project.
(1) Continue development of CROPS, a computer-based expert system to devise whole-farm crop rotation plans and integrate low-input farming practices.
(2) Incorporate the soil erosion prediction models identified by the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) as their standards (RUSLE and WEPP) to analyze the effects of crop rotation plans developed in Objective 1 on soil erosion.
(3) Incorporate an economic model of a farming operation (FLIPSIM-V) to evaluate the economic effects of potential farm plans developed.
(4) Evaluate the feasibility of whole-farm plans developed in Objective 1 on two Virginia crop/livestock operations.