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Agricultural systems research: An introduction

Agricultural systems research: An introduction. L.E. Drinkwater Cornell University. Overview. Strengths of systems thinking Some useful concepts Systems thinking in management and problem solving One key tool: concept mapping.

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Agricultural systems research: An introduction

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  1. Agricultural systems research: An introduction L.E. Drinkwater Cornell University

  2. Overview • Strengths of systems thinking • Some useful concepts • Systems thinking in management and problem solving • One key tool: concept mapping

  3. Systems approaches are well-suited to support the transition to sustainable agriculture • Allows for consideration of multiple goals • Combine expertise from multiple disciplines and functions • Holistic systems approach can cope with interactions and harness reinforcing feedbacks • Learning from innovative farmers

  4. Why use system based approaches? • We need to understand mechanisms regulating ecological processes within farms/fields in order to optimize ecological management • Assess agroecosystem-scale function (consequences of management systems beyond yield) • Identify trade-offs and synergies among management options or enterprises • New discoveries and novel solutions

  5. Useful concepts from ecology for organizing research questions • Ecosystems are composed of nested sub-systems • Use of space and time to define processes • Open vs closed systems • Structure determines function

  6. The concept of nested hierarchies applied to weed management Successful ecological weed control requires integrating knowledge across all these levels—i.e. “Many little hammers” (Liebmann and Gallandt 1997) Seed dormancy regulation Generations per year Organism Population Pathogens or herbivores Community Nutrient cycling  growth Ecosystem

  7. Ecosystem ServicesThe benefits people obtain from ecosystems Millennium Ecosystem Assessment- www.millenniumassessment.org

  8. Environmental, biotic and management characteristics drive ecosystem processes AGROECOSYSTEM STRUCTURE Physical environment- Climate, soil type and typology, time Biotic components- Biodiversity, community composition, population assemblages Management- Plant species in space and time, tillage, inputs, harvest regime, spatial scale of fields, enterprise diversity Millennium Ecosystem Assessment- www.millenniumassessment.org

  9. Systems thinking in agricultural management and research

  10. Organic agriculture: Example of a systems-based management approach • Agroecosystem components and management practices serve multiple functions. • Cover crops fix nitrogen, build SOM and soil structure, scavenge nutrients, suppress weeds, reduce erosion, provide habitat for beneficial arthropods. • Management strategies rely on many distinct practices/processes– “many little hammers” (Liebman and Gallandt. 1997). • Weed management relies on rotation, strategic use of tillage, weed suppressive cover crops, seed bed depletion via management and food web based mechanisms).

  11. Experimental design: systems + reductionist experimentation

  12. Soybean Soybean aphid Problem: Insect pest Traditional Approach: How to manage soybean aphid? • Factorial experimentation • Test specific management practices in small plots • Series of short-term experiments

  13. Soybean Soybean aphid Problem: Insect pest Systems Approach: What interactions within the agroecosystem impact soybean aphid? • Interdisciplinary team • Define the system, i.e. concept mapping, knowledge gaps • Design appropriate research plan

  14. Golden alexanders Yellow coneflower Syrphid flies Yarrow Common boneset Soybean aphid Woody riparian buffer Bradyrhizobia Soil organic matter Asian ladybug Soybean

  15. Concept mapping is an essential tool in systems-based, collaborative research

  16. Describe a system that encompasses the research questions but has clear boundaries Explicitly define the components of the system and how they interact with one another Provide a logical framework for the research questions to be addressed Be developed and agreed upon by all collaborators. Each person should be able to find their particular subsystem or area of expertise in the model Be simple enough to be understood by reviewers, stakeholders, potential funders A conceptual model should:

  17. Summary • Systems thinking requires a paradigm shift, a re-assessment of the way we view agroecosystems • There are many resources to draw from in the ecology literature, sustainability science, business world • Planning benefits from structure: Follow a logical progression, set boundaries, use concept mapping • Need to apply a consistent framework to develop general principles and agroecosystem assessment methods THANK-YOU!

  18. Interactions across spatial scales: The case of rock P management Background ecosystem characteristics Climate and soil type Field-scale Addition of soil amendments Plant Plant productivity, root exudates Selection of plant species Bacteria, fungi Inoculation w/ P solubilizing microbes Solubilization of P Soil microsites

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