This article describes the potential (and often realized) benefits of developing and implementing agricultural models for solving a broad range of agroecosystem research problems. It provides some examples of agricultural model applications in research and management, presents various technologies surrounding current agricultural model development and use, and also identifies limitations and knowledge gaps in agricultural models where further improvements could be made. A remaining question to be answered is 'what does the future hold?' Certainly there will be continuing (if not greater) attention to aspects of agricultural system models less related to agronomic production. The existing strong demand for agricultural models to address soil and water resource concerns (e.g., limited water issues, nutrient and organic matter cycling, soil salinity) and wider issues of sustainable agriculture in the face of global climate change (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, wind and water erosion) will intensify. Environmental modeling frameworks will continue to mature, and development of large monolithic agricultural models will essentially disappear to be replaced by component-based models that link, as required, independent modules representing problem-specific processes of interest. The use of agricultural models in IA will continue to grow. Agricultural models provide objective tools to determine biophysical consequences of resource management options at various scales. To truly have a whole-systems approach, biophysical simulation and assessments need to be complimented by socioeconomic analyses (involving decision-makers and other stakeholders) before substantial benefits are realized. Finally, in order to further improve process representation in agricultural models (in whatever context they are used), model developers and field scientists in various scientific disciplines must continue to enhance their collaborative efforts.
Even with current shortcomings, agricultural models are very useful tools in synthesizing and quantifying scientific knowledge and experimental results across different climates, soils, and agricultural management systems at different locations across field, farm, and regional scales. The sustainability ofagroecosystems depends on the maintenance of the ecological, social, economic, biological, and physical components that comprise the system. The high level of integration of these components implies that any evaluation of agroecosystem sustainability must consider the dynamics of these multiple factors. Agricultural models have become, and will remain in the future, important tools to facilitate assessment of agroecosystem sustainability.
See also: Agriculture Systems; Evapotranspiration; Grassland Models; Insect Pest Models and Insecticide Application; Landscape Modeling; Leaf Area Index Models; Modules in Modeling; Plant Growth Models; Soil Erosion by Water; Watershed Models.
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