Decision support systems for agriculture

We have yet to fully exploit the potential of information technologies. Among the multiple benefits they are offering, is the capacity to enable, empower, and incite tool sharing. One of them are decision support systems (DSS) which already have an important place within the precision agriculture approach.

What are DSS?

DSS are software-based systems that gather and analyse data from a variety of sources. Their purpose is to smoothen the decision-making process for management, operations, planning, or optimal solution path recommendation. In the agricultural sector, it helps farmers to solve complex issues related to crop production. As tools for diagnosis, risk assessment and reasoning assistance, DSS use agronomic models and calculations based on water, climate, energy and genetic data but they also take into account other factors such as human and economic inputs.

DSS as a solution to optimize irrigation and better water management

Facing obstacles such as limitation on volumes of water withdrawal or volatile agricultural prices, farmers must adapt by changing their practices. Thanks to more accurate irrigation technologies it is possible to reduce water use in agriculture, improve productivity, and ultimately produce as much or even more with less water.

As a good example, the research institute Irstea based in Montpelier has developed a software called "Pilot" capable to estimate future yields of crops according to climate conditions and irrigation. More precisely, this tool consists of a "soil" module, which models water transfers in the soil, and a "plant" module, which simulates the evolution of the leaf area index as a final performance indicator. Combined with climate data obtained from rainfall, temperature measurement and radiation, the results of the two modules provide not only an estimate of the predicted yield for given crop and soil characteristics, but it also gives an estimate of the water consumption needed to achieve the targeted return. Using such a DSS could help the operator prepare an irrigation schedule without a need of multiple parameters.

Future of DSS

Being a key part of sustainable agriculture, DSS will become more and more robust. The increased connectivity of technologies and the multiplication of smart devices on the field stimulates the accumulation and storage of data. By integrating and analysing the captured data, DSS are meant to become more accurate as well as reliable. Last but not least, actors from the sector have the ambition to make DSS more ergonomic and user-friendly. Companies already offer mobile interfaces on smartphones and tablets, that are easy to handle and can be used in real time, directly on the field. Such developments allow more farmers to use DSS, since, at the end of the day, they are the final recipients and users of new technologies which will revolutionize agriculture.

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