FallowARM and CropARM: New tools to help grain growers understand and manage risks

Author: Keith Pembleton1, Howard Cox2 | Date: 19 Jul 2017

University of Southern Queensland1, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland2

Take home message

New web based apps are now available to help grain growers and agronomists analyse their cropping systems and practices to optimise management.  These tools are FallowARM and CropARM.  Each tool has a simple interface that allows users to analyse different aspects of the farming system.  Tools can be accessed through either mobile phones, tablets or computer by going to www.armonline.com.au. These tools have been developed from the old WhopperCropper program.

Background

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 to critically evaluate the full range of possible outcomes and the probability of achieving those outcomes.  To help growers and agronomists make this evaluation in an objective manner, a series of web apps have been developed.  FallowARM and CropARM are two of these tools which enable an evaluation of the season ahead by evaluating the last 115 years of weather and climate data using crop and soil models.

App access

These apps can be accessed via desktop or mobile devices (phones and tablets).  In fact they have been optimised to function with the screen size of a mobile phone so the analysis can be undertaken in the field when and where cropping decisions are being made.

App engine

The data used in FallowARM and CropARM is derived using the APSIM cropping systems model. These apps provide a simplified and user friendly interface to the results. The simplified interface and input options has been designed so none of the analytical power of APSIM is lost, but it is easy and quick to produce simple “what if” scenarios. In essence, these apps put the analytical power of APSIM into the hands of growers and agronomists.

The apps, inputs and outputs

Both FallowARM and CropARM can be accessed through the armonline.com.au website. This website brings together a collection of tools to undertake scenario analysis to assist grain growers and agronomists with their strategic and tactical decision making or advice. The first thing a user needs to do is select a site. There are over 40 sites to select from across Australia, with a key focus area being the Northern Grains Region (Figure 1).Screen shot of the site selection interface showing with distribution of locations in northern NSW and central and southern Qld.

Figure 1. The site selection interface showing with distribution of locations in
northern NSW and central and southern Qld.

If using FallowARM, the next step is to select the scenario options to analyse through a simple check box interface (Figure 2). The options include soil plant available water holding capacity, initial organic carbon level, initial soil surface organic matter, initial mineral nitrogen and initial water content.  Users also need to select the fallow start date and the length of the fallow. Multiple options can be selected to compare across scenarios.

Screen shot of the fallow scenario selection interface showing the options available to analyse in FallowARM.  In this example two initial surface organic matter levels will be compared.

Figure 2. The fallow scenario selection interface showing the options available to analyse in FallowARM.  In this example two initial surface organic matter levels will be compared.

CropARM users will first need to select a crop (Figure 3, left panel) before selecting the management scenario options (Figure 3 right panel).  All major summer and winter crops are represented.  While management scenarios are crop specific, they do include the initial soil conditions (soil water content and nitrogen), crop maturity type, plant density, sowing date, row arrangement and nitrogen fertiliser rate. Similar to FallowARM, multiple scenarios can be selected and compared.

Screen shot of the crop selection interface (left panel) and scenario options available to analyse a sorghum crop in CropARM.  In this example three nitrogen fertiliser rates for a sorghum crop are being compared.

Figure 3. The crop selection interface (left panel) and scenario options available to analyse a sorghum crop in CropARM.  In this example three nitrogen fertiliser rates for a sorghum crop are being compared.

Once the scenarios are selected, the results are displayed for the user (Figure 4).  For FallowARM there are 10 different output parameters which include plant available water at the end of the fallow, soil mineral N at the end of the fallow, stubble levels at the end of the fallow and in-fallow rainfall, runoff and drainage.  CropARM has 20 outputs including grain/lint yield, grain protein, crop biomass, days to harvest, maximum and minimum temperatures during key growth periods (e.g. flowering), number of days of heat stress and number of potential frost events.  The format of the output can be easily changed to suit the user’s preference with four charting options available (Figure 5).

Screen shot of the soil water at end of fallow output for the FallowARM scenario selected in figure 2 (left panel) and the sorghum yield output for the CropARM scenario selected in figure 3 (right panel).

Figure 4. The soil water at end of fallow output for the FallowARM scenario selected in figure 2 (left panel) and the sorghum yield output for the CropARM scenario selected in figure 3 (right panel).

Screen shot of sorghum yield output for the CropARM scenario selected in figure 3 displayed as a box and whisker plot (upper left panel), annual bar chart (lower left panel), cumulative distribution plot (upper right panel) and a probability of exceedance plot (lower right panel).

Figure 5. Sorghum yield output for the CropARM scenario selected in figure 3 displayed as a box and whisker plot (upper left panel), annual bar chart (lower left panel), cumulative distribution plot (upper right panel) and a probability of exceedance plot (lower right panel).

After the initial analysis, users can undertake two secondary analyses, a gross margin analysis and a medium term forecast using the southern oscillation index (SOI).  The gross margin analysis simply requires seed, fertiliser, irrigation and other costs along with the expected price. This is then used to calculate the gross margin for each of the scenarios selected (Figure 6).  For the SOI analysis, users can select the SOI phases they are interested in for the two months preceding sowing.  The predicted results specific for those SOI phases are then presented (Figure 7).

Screen shot of the input interface for the gross margin analysis (upper panel) and the resulting output of a gross margin analysis applied to the sorghum scenario selected in figure 3 (lower panel).

Figure 6. The input interface for the gross margin analysis (upper panel) and the resulting output of a gross margin analysis applied to the sorghum scenario selected in figure 3 (lower panel).

Screen shot of the input interface for the SOI analysis (upper panel) and the resulting output applied to a sorghum crop based on the 75kgN/ha nitrogen fertiliser scenario selected in figure 3 (upper panel).

Figure 7. The input interface for the SOI analysis (upper panel) and the resulting output applied to a sorghum crop based on the 75kg N/ha nitrogen fertiliser scenario selected in figure 3 (upper panel).

When to use the Apps

These Apps are ideally suited to help with start of season scenario analysis to identify appropriate sowing dates, sowing rates and fertiliser rates based on current SOI forecasts and market prices.  They are also ideal for evaluating the production potential and variability in regions that users may not be familiar with (e.g. new agronomists) and can provide a grounding for agronomic advice.

Acknowledgements

These re-development of these tools were completed under the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries – University of Southern Queensland, Broad Acre Grains Partnership. The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) funded the original projects that produced the programs from which these apps were developed.

Contact details

Keith Pembleton
University of Southern Queensland
Toowoomba
Phone: 07 5431 1921
Email: Keith.Pembleton@usq.edu.au

Howard Cox
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland
Toowoomba
Phone: 07 45294181
Email: howard.cox@daf.qld.gov.au