In order to support smallholder farmers through Digital Agriculture, we first must well understand what crop management means. We will only talk about field scale here. Crop management is not limited to a series of agricultural operations. We will try to broach the complexity of the problem of crop management.
Crop management is the “logical and ordered combination of techniques applied to a field aiming at a production”, translated from french, . Those operations range from soil preparation to harvest. There is a fundamental difference between agronomic theoretical techniques and farmers’ practices.
The farmer coordinates a production factors with their constrains: land resources, labour, equipment, legislation… He will combine thoses concurrent factors to reach as possible production characteristics defined at the beginning of crop season. Those objectives will iteratively assessed and adjusted. Farmers have to adapt to a range of more or less predictable phenomenons happening during cultivation. For instance, pests and diseases or drought may arise. The occurrence of those will influence what objectives are reachable (e.g. yield and grain quality).
Decision making is sequential, and constantly requires to be reactive to field evolution during the season.
The field in its environment
Farmer managing its crop in a field is not disconnected from its environment. He evolves in a social and natural frames. Decisions may affect positively or negatively the field and its environment. Decisions made by the farmer are subject to social acceptance and legislation (e.g. chemical use). The field lies in its environment and interacts at a larger scale with its biotic (e.g. insect populations) and abiotic components (phratic zones).
Consequences of decisions are perceptible at different time scales. For instance a few weeks for pest treatment to years for erosion and soil carbon content. One operation may be profitable at low time scale but deleterious at larger time horizons such a with massive mineral fertilization.
As a consequence, we can see that crop management deal with nested spatial and temporal scales. The evaluation of the production is multidimensional (e.g. . yield, field soil evolution, environmental impact…).
Finally, farmers evolve in an agricultural value chaine. The chain spans from equipment acquisition (seeds, material…) to market opportunity for commercialization (and its volatility). We can thus conclude that crop-management is a complex problem. We should address is in a systematic fashion, that-is-to-say by taking into account all its factors.
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