Introduction

The inherent complexity of agroecosystems (Figure 1) requires multidisciplinary analyses from a wide range of scientific disciplines to better understand agronomic production issues and solve complex, real-world problems in agriculture. For example, increased use of water, fertilizers, and pesticides necessary for expansion of global agricultural production has resulted in damage to agro-ecosystems including excessive runoff and leaching of agricultural chemicals, decline in soil organic matter, and increases in soil salinity and wind/water erosion. Other challenges threaten the viability and sustainability of agroecosystems, including issues related to global climate change and market-based global commercialization and competition. The solution or mitigation of these multifaceted and multidimensional problems requires continual improvement and changes in agricultural management, and selection of agronomic production systems using a whole-system approach. Whole-system approaches were developed specifically to support interdisciplinary studies (with the goal of solving significant agronomic, ecological, and environmental problems that require systemwide integration and quantification of knowledge), and their development and use have increased strongly in the past decade.

An important component for analyzing and assessing whole-system interactions in agronomic systems is the knowledge derived from agricultural model simulations. Simulation models of agroecosystems have evolved into highly useful tools for evaluating and quantifying the effects of management practices, crops, soils, water, and climate on sustainability of both agricultural production and the surrounding environment. Furthermore, agricultural models can serve as strategic and tactical guides for planning and assessment, and help transfer new technologies to various location-specific environments (e.g., climate, soils, production systems) within regions or countries. In this article, the current state of agricultural models and their applications for the above purposes are

Figure 1 Major processes in agricuiturai systems.

- Groundwater recharge

Figure 1 Major processes in agricuiturai systems.

reviewed and current technologies in agricultural model use (related to modular model development, state of the art interfaces, scaling issues, integrated assessment (IA), and field research integration) are presented. In addition, research needs for agricultural system models are discussed, and conclusions offered as to what the future holds for agricultural system modeling.

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