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Agricultural modelling improves profitability and minimises environmental footprint

Australian farmers are environmental stewards, owning, managing and caring for 61 per cent of Australia’s land mass.

They produce more than 90% of the country’s domestic food supply, contributing to a value of more than $60 billion a year.

Yet there is growing pressure on growers to produce more with less inputs, all while minimising their environmental impacts.

There is a gap, and in some cases a considerable gap, in the yields attained on farms and what is biologically possible.

This creates added pressure on growers to run viable businesses and also limit the environmental impact of their business operations – these pressures can be challenging, overwhelming and leave farmers feeling uncertain and as price takers, economically powerless.

The search for more efficient methods of farming is driving University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ) researchers to develop innovative decision support systems and apps that draw on the power of data, large scale modelling and cloud computing to help farmers and managers make better decisions when they are in the paddock and the office.

The UniSQ Agricultural Systems and Catchment Modelling Group conducts research to facilitate practice change on farm, by helping farmers make informed decisions that relate to their production practices, to improve their profitability and social and environmental sustainability.

Used by cotton growers and agronomists, YieldWise allows users to quantify the impact of various environmental conditions and predict likely yield and nutrient losses.

One such project, named YieldWise, is a group of web-based decision support tools that assists to improve decision-making related to various aspects of agriculture and environment.

Used by cotton growers and agronomists, YieldWise allows users to quantify the impact of various environmental conditions, including runoff, drainage, nutrient losses and crop yield, and predict likely yield and nutrient losses.

For grain farmers, UniSQ researchers have helped to develop ARM Online – a selection of agricultural risk management tools.

In collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, ARM Online allows users to create an evaluation of the season ahead by evaluating weather and climate data from the last 115 years using crop and soil models.

Through the development of decision support systems, UniSQ puts the power of agricultural research models and analysis into farmers’ hands so they can make better decisions in relation to the management of agricultural enterprises.

Grain production in Australia is inextricably linked to the climate and hence is exposed to a high degree of variability.

When planning management strategies for a coming season, it is important that growers critically evaluate the full range of possible outcomes and the probability of achieving those outcomes.

This computational modelling offers farmers, the resource sector and policy-makers opportunities to understand the potential impacts of decisions that relate to highly variable and complex agricultural and land management systems.

UniSQ research, through the decisions support tools and models being developed, is leading to better decision-making by growers, increasing profitability and productivity while minimising the environmental footprint of their enterprises.

By improving the financial and environmental performance of the agricultural enterprises, these tools are helping contribute to rural economic development and improving the prosperity of regional areas.

UniSQ joins APSIM

UniSQ joined the Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM) initiative in 2017. APSIM, internationally recognised as a highly advanced simulator of agricultural systems, is a set of tools that provide accurate predictions of crop production in relation to climate, genotype, soil and management factor while addressing ongoing climate risks.

It currently assists UniSQ researchers in the development of agricultural systems models and decision support tools and is also a key teaching tool in the Plant Agricultural Science Major in the Bachelor of Science program, where it’s used to demonstrate key concepts and allow students to explore complex concepts in agronomy. APSIM is giving UniSQ students a unique set of skills that put them ahead of the pack once they’re in the ever-competitive jobs market. The model is now being used in more than 110 countries worldwide.

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