Whole-System Integration and Modeling Essential to Agricultural Science and Technology for the 21st Century
Understanding real-world situations and solving significant agronomic, engineering, and environmental problems require process-based synthesis and quantification of knowledge at the whole-system level. In the 20th Century, we made tremendous advances in discovering fundamental principles in different scientific disciplines using reduction methods, which created major breakthroughs in management and technology for agricultural systems. However, as we enter the 21st Century, agricultural research has more difficult and complex problems to solve. The environmental consciousness of the general public is challenging producers to modify farm management to protect water, air, and soil quality, while staying economically profitable. At the same time, market-based global competition in agricultural production and the global climate change are threatening economic viability of the traditional agricultural systems, and require the development of new and dynamic
production systems. Site-specific, optimal management of spatially variable soil, appropriately selected crops, and available water resources on the landscape can help achieve both environmental and production objectives. Fortunately, the new electronic technologies can provide a vast amount of real-time information about soil and crop conditions via remote sensing with satellites or ground-based instruments,- which, combined with near-term weather, can be used to develop a whole new level of site-specific management. However, we need the means to assimilate this vast amount of data. A synthesis and quantification of disciplinary knowledge at the whole-system level, via process-based modeling of agricultural systems, are essential to develop such means and the management systems that can be adapted to continual change. Interactions among disciplinary components of the agricultural systems are generally very important. Models are the only way to find and understand these interactions in a system, integrate various experimental results and observations for different conditions, and extrapolate limited experimental results to other soil and climate conditions.