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Research focuses on biomathematical modeling of agricultural production systems

published: October 24th 2022
by: Adam Russell
source: Texas AgriLife Today

Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Department of Soil and Crop Sciences scientist Prem Oli, Ph.D., uses data and model simulations to look into the future for agricultural producers.

Oli, an AgriLife Research biomathematical modeler, recently accepted a research faculty position at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton. He has served at the center since 2016, initially as an assistant research scientist and as an associate research scientist since 2019.

Oli’s modeling work, which focuses on the forage-animal interface and sustainable cropping systems, can be applied to managing a wide range of agroecosystems. Using a climate-smart approach, his models apply to the sustainable management of agricultural and natural resources.

“The framework of my future work will basically remain the same,” he said. “However, the horizon of my collaboration with other scientists and researchers in developing models to support a wide range of agroecosystems management will expand from my affiliated Texas A&M AgriLife center and the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences to other departments, universities, states and countries. It’s a new opportunity and presents new challenges, and I am excited to see what is ahead.”

Oli research models provide valuable information for producers

Using the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer, DSSAT, crop model, Oli has conducted several simulation modeling studies on various forages such as Bermuda grass, forage wheat, forage rye and cowpea while at the center. He has also developed a daily gain model for stocker cattle grazing Bermuda grass, a daily nutritive value model for Bermuda grass pasture and a crop model for forage wheat and integrated them into the DSSAT system.

By incorporating grazing-related parameters, Oli modified the summative equation to estimate daily values of total digestible nutrients, TDN, for Bermuda grass pasture. He continues his modeling efforts on grazing systems to link animal growth models with crop growth models in the DSSAT system.  

Monte Rouquette, Ph.D., AgriLife Research forage physiologist, Overton, said Oli’s modeling efforts produce valuable data for gauging the plant-animal interface that links daily plant growth to daily animal gains. The work could eventually translate into a decision-aid tool to help cattle producers and farmers apply best management practices for their specific conditions.

Oli has utilized decades of weather, forage and beef cattle production data produced by several researchers at the center, including Rouquette.

“One of Dr. Oli’s viable tools used in assessing the potential climatic variability effects on agriculture across various locations in the state is using the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, ENSO, ocean-atmospheric phenomenon,” Rouquette said. “Using long-term weather data to show the effects of climate on crop growth conditions and the impacts of ENSO phenomena on agricultural production could be a valuable tool for producers.”

Charles Long, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M AgriLife center at Overton, said Oli’s models are driven by his access to and utilization of weather, forage production, grazing and cattle daily gain data produced by AgriLife Research scientists over the past 50 years. The trove of data is a crucial element to the models, but Oli’s ability to apply algorithms and equations that could potentially reveal prescribed decisions or options for producers has Long excited about the possibilities.

Long said he wants to be cautious but optimistic about the program’s potential. Oli and collaborators like Rouquette continue to work through fundamental data application before other data sets like agriculture economic factors are introduced. But Long said Oli’s innovations continue to progress.

“The goal is to leverage 50 years of research into a management tool,” he said. “There are a number of performance apps out there available to producers. But these models could be something that provides a range of scenarios and outcomes that help our researchers and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agents calculate risk vs. reward and help producers manage toward profitability.”

Modeling the future for ag production

The faculty position also gives Oli the opportunity to design and commit to long-term programs, develop modeling frameworks around such programs and activities, and ultimately provide production strategies, he said. Oli hopes to add economic components such as price, supply and demand parameters into the system of algorithms comprising production functions to give producers a tool that could be used for decision-making.

“The future of modeling is directed toward providing decision aids for farmers to maximize the productivity and income of their agroecosystems while protecting the environment and enhancing the efficiency of the agricultural resource base,” Oli said. “Models based on the climate-smart approach will not only help make agroecosystems more resilient and adaptive to the ups and downs associated with climate change, but also help mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions by revealing outcomes under expected scenarios and presenting alternative solutions.”

Oli worked as a post-doctoral research associate at the land-grant universities of Alabama, Mississippi and Washington states between 2010 and joining AgriLife Research. He earned his doctoral degree in agricultural and biological engineering from the University of Florida.

“This is a great opportunity,” he said. “There is obviously some job security in the faculty position relative to the previous one, but what is more important to me is the opportunity it has offered me to expand my horizons of thoughts, ideas, workspace and collaboration.”

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