Open Source Adaptive Management Tools: From Farm Observations to Location Specific Soil Health Decision Support

October 25, 2017 – October 26, 2017

ASA, CSSA & SSSA International Annual Meeting

The objective of this convening event is to explore white spaces and research gaps in the decision support tool and open source software platform space. Advances in this space can increase U.S. farmers’, ranchers’ and other land managers’ access to local, national and global knowledge and information relevant to their soil, topography and climate.The goal is not to in any way replace extension, crop consultants and precision farming technology suppliers, but rather to provide these individuals and organizations with an additional tool that they can use to improve the quality, quantity and relevance of their own knowledge systems and to ensure that those land managers without access to professional consulting can at least identify and access available knowledge and information that is relevant to their land.

Attendees will explore areas of scientific innovation related to:

  • Landscape of decision support tools available to farmers both large and small/midsized scale
  • White spaces and research gaps surrounding decision support tools
  • Strategies for harmonizing the various existing knowledge bases of peer reviewed decision based tools and models for assessing soil health
  • Areas of synergy and collaboration among groups providing support in this space and how resources can effectively be leveraged
Event Details

Date: October 25-26, 2017
Location: Tri-Societies Annual Meeting

FFAR is pleased to recognize the following Event Sponsors:

American Society of Agronomy

Crop Science Society of America

Soil Science Society of America


Agenda coming soon.

Issue Background

Agricultural demand is growing as population growth and changes in diet are projected to result in an increase in food production of 70% according to FAO (2011). While being challenged to meet growing agricultural production demands, farmers are also faced with the added obstacles of estimating complex effects of weather, soils needs and various management practices all in an attempt to balance productivity and soil health. A growing number of farmers and ranchers from across the country are using cover crops and soil health management systems to improve the health and productivity of their soil.

Currently many practices pertaining to soil health and proper management continue to be guided by beliefs rather than strong evidence of improved economic returns and that is slowing their adoption (Hursh 2017). Farmers can be reluctant to invest time and resources in new tools unless the benefit is clear and the documented and they can clearly link costs to adoption (Naumann et al 2013).

Decision support tools can help identify practices that optimize soil productivity. Well-documented and tested tools can “add credibility and trust to the decision process, increasing stakeholder confidence in their use.” If they are flexible enough for use in diverse decision contexts and can be affordably applied, they could reasonably be incorporated into public- and private-sector environmental decision making on a routine basis (Bagstad et al 2013).

However, the current state of measurement and modeling is not conducive to efficient and cost effective farmer participation; specifically, for the small and mid-sized farmer. There is a need for streamlined farm record keeping, farm level decision making support, peer to peer knowledge exchange, farm and landscape modeling of impact, monitoring and verification for results and reporting and data management for ecosystem services.

Furthermore, none of the existing tools support soil-specific monitoring, evaluation and dissemination of innovative practices. This has often led to the promotion of “one-size-fits-all” approaches based on experience with a limited set of soils. At best this results in field-scale failures. At worst, the negative publicity of these failures can lead to initial widespread rejection of innovative practices that may be appropriate for a subset of soils in a region.

Finally, to the extent that these tools exist (e.g. commercial “precision agriculture” packages) they are generally inaccessible to small- to mid-sized farmers who lack the necessary financial resources and equipment.

An open source system which can connect soil-specific decision support tools and models for assessing soil health, greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental factors in order to facilitate effective farm management could prove invaluable to this space. To more effectively manage soils, collaboration between research, advisory services, product development and farmers is necessary (Mattila et al 2017).


FAO, I., IMF, O., & UNCTAD, W. (2011). the World Bank, the WTO, IFPRI and the UN HLTF (2011). Price Volatility in Food and Agricultural Markets: Policy Responses. Rome, FAO.

Hursh, K. (2017). Economic Returns drive Farming Process. The Western Producer. Retrieved from June 24, 2017.

Naumann, S., Frelih-Larsen, A., Dooley, E., Kemper, M., Grønbech Hansen, J. (2013). SmartSOIL: Sustainable farm management aimed at reducing threats to SOILS under Climate change- Overview and assessment report of decision support tools and knowledge platforms. Ecologic Institute. Retrieved from on June 24, 2017.

Bagstad, K. J., Semmens, D. J., Waage, S., & Winthrop, R. (2013). A comparative assessment of decision-support tools for ecosystem services quantification and valuation. Ecosystem Services, 5, 27-39.

Mattila, T., Rajala, J., Mynttinen, R., & Väisänen, H. M. (2017, June). OSMO-a collaborative network testing knowledge and tools for resource-efficient soil health management. In NJF Seminar 495-4th organic Conference: Organics for tomorrow’s food systems, 19-21 June 2017, Mikkeli, Finland (Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 70-72).


If you are interested in attending this convening event, please contact Lakisha Odom.

Contact Details
LaKisha Odom

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