Decision-support tools evaluate potential results of production practices

The Problem: 

The life of a farmer is a life of uncertainty. Farmers frequently need to reevaluate their current production practices in light of new recommendations to determine if changes would be beneficial. New production practices might be more economical or more sustainable, but change is risky. Every farmer faces different challenges defined by their land, equipment, crops and more. Farmers need informational tools specific to their operation to help make the difficult decision to change production practices.


The Research

To address this need, researchers with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and experts across the nation, developed tools to aid in this decision-making process. Michael Popp, professor in the department of agricultural economics and agribusiness, headed a project that combined field, livestock and equipment research data with economic analysis to give farmers spreadsheet-based models. Farmers can use these tools to estimate outcomes for alternative production practices before bringing them to the field.

Researchers in the mid-South performed experimental field trials to gather information about the effects of different practices in different geographic areas. The data outcomes gathered from these trials as well as calibrated simulation models using historical weather data were used together with historical price information to create versatile models. Excel-based interfaces were built around these models to allow farmers to input their operation-specific details or use default production parameters. The model’s output information helps farmers simulate different production practices and estimate how changes will affect the bottom line.

Each decision-support tool required one to two years of development time, involving graduate and undergraduate research assistants, research associates and input from experts in various fields. The Forage and Cattle Planner, or FORCAP, is the oldest of the tools, released in 2013. To date, six tools have been released and updates are ongoing.

  • ENCAP – Energy Crop Analysis & Planning
  • FORCAP – The Forage & Cattle Planner
  • PAM – Palmer Amaranth Management
  • SOYMAP – Soybean Maturity Analysis & Planning
  • SOYRISK – Soybean Risk Analysis
  • TGA – Tractor Guideline Analysis


The Bottom Line

These decision-support tools combine field, livestock and equipment performance data with economic information to help farmers evaluate potential outcomes of alternative production practices. Each tool allows users to specify their own farm’s specific circumstances so that situation-specific information can assist with making a more informed decision about ways to maximize productivity and minimize risk.


The Researcher

Michael P. Popp

Michael P. Popp

Professor in the department of agricultural economics and agribusiness.

Popp earned his bachelor of commerce, management information systems from the University of Manitoba, Canada, and his masters in finance from the University of Colorado. He completed his Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics from Colorado State University in 1995.

Popp’s research interests include areas of farm and agribusiness management with an emphasis on alternative production practices and related implications for returns, risk and the environment. He enjoys collaborating with multidisciplinary experts that provided the needed data for these tools.