GRIFFIN – Anyone familiar with agriculture knows that a successful harvest depends largely on environmental factors. An especially hot summer with no rain in sight or with poor soil quality can cause as many problems as a late cold snap right in the middle of the planting season. Farmers often need to rely on trial and error to get the best results. But for agricultural scientists, the guessing game can be reduced thanks to a computer software program called the Agrotechnology Transfer Decision Support System (DSSAT).
Created by a team of researchers from the universities of Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Guelph and Michigan State University in partnership with the International Fertilizer Development Center, DSSAT is designed to better understand agricultural systems and environmental influences to make predictions that give farmers options for your cultivation. The current version – version 4.7.5 – can model growth, yield, irrigation and fertilization requirements for 42 different crops, as well as regional environmental impact. DSSAT has been used by more than 16,500 researchers, educators, consultants, extension agents and producers in more than 174 countries around the world.
“DSSAT is one of the most widely used crop models in the world,” said Gerrit Hoogenboom, DSSAT developer who is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Florida. “The software itself was originally developed for researchers, but is now also being used as a teaching tool. The model, which is the key component of the DSSAT, can be used by farmers”.
A DSSAT training workshop that attracts international participation has been held on the University of Georgia Griffin campus every year since 2002. Hoogenboom said the Griffin campus is an ideal location due to its proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He added that Art Cain, Continuing Education Coordinator at UGA Griffin, and his team did a great job organizing the event.
This year, 35 researchers participated in the workshop, held from May 17th to 21st, to learn about the latest version of the software. Typically, the week-long seminar attracts around 50 to 60 participants from around the world, but due to social distancing requirements this year, the number of attendees had to be halved and there were no international attendees. Despite the changes, Hoogenboom said he was thrilled to be able to offer the course in person this year.
“Although the talk isn’t as challenging online, the exercises are,” he said. “One of the main parts of the workshop is having hands-on work with the software so that participants become efficient. Online is a challenge because it’s harder to talk to individual participants. ”
Seminar exercises and program applications allow operators to use “what if” questions to simulate a multi-year output of crop management strategies. All of this can be done on a computer in a matter of minutes, but is usually done first as a field experiment.
“We usually use physical experiments to evaluate the model before any application,” said Hoogenboom. “With the model, we can carry out computer experiments in which we can combine crop, soil and climate data from different years and different management options to determine optimal management.”
The program includes experimental data from researchers around the world as examples and case studies to provide farmers with options regarding their crops.
Hoogenboom said he looks to the workshop as an opportunity to work with others in an academic setting to see how the software is being used by a variety of people. It also gives him a vision of the future of DSSAT.
“Some of the people who come to the workshop become trainers themselves, and that’s what excites me the most,” he said. “It’s great to work with the groups of participants because it ensures that our work will continue in the future. “
For more information on DSSAT, visit dssat.net.