He may not be faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive. And leaping buildings is way beyond his expertise.
But CroPMan, the new superhero of farm management analysis, will soon be on call at County Extension Service offices in Texas.
CroPMan, for Crop Production and Management Model, includes databases for dozens of crops as well as weather, soil, pesticide use and systems (tillage, irrigation, etc.). But it's also adaptable. Users can insert new data, depending on specific soil or weather conditions or cropping systems.
“Users customize the program for specific locations,” says Tom Gerik, professor of crop physiology and production at the Texas A&M Blackland Research and Education Center in Temple.
“We can change or edit soil types, pesticides, cropping systems, planting dates, general costs, weather, fertilization, budgets, tillage and other factors that affect yield and profit. This will be an ideal risk management tool for Texas farmers,” Gerik says.
CroPMan models crop conditions and presents various outcomes that include yield, profit potential, pesticide loss, soil erosion and other factors that affect a farm's short-and long-term stability.
Wyatt Harman, co-project leader with Gerik, says farmers can use information generated by CroPMan to analyze long-term outcomes for various crops.
“Farmers have had decision-making software before,” Harman says. “This model takes the process a step further. It's the first one I know of that includes a crop rotation aspect.”
He says the program allows farmers to determine what effect various cropping systems will have on long-term soil erosion. The model includes soil types, historical weather data, conservation practices (terracing, contour farming, reduced tillage, etc.), and cropping systems to evaluate erosion potential for up to 40 years.
It also evaluates, based on materials used and soil types, the fate of pesticides and fertilizers over time.
“We can evaluate how certain management practices affect runoff and leaching,” Harman says. “The model includes a long list of pesticides and we add new ones as they become available.”
CroPMan compares various irrigation system efficiencies up to 90 percent.
Harman and Gerik say the model allows farmers to identify field limitations. “We can show how much nitrogen and other nutrients a farmer can apply economically,” Gerik says. “Economic values are current, but a specific farm evaluation will depend on the accuracy of the farmer's own records.”
“This kind of program may encourage farmers to do more accurate soil sampling,” Harman says.
The short-range impact may be even more important when commodity prices are low and production expenses high.
“This provides us with a management tool that helps make decisions before we advise farmers on planting practices,” says Danny Fromme, an area Extension entomologist at Wharton.
Fromme and other Extension and Natural Resource Conservation Service specialists are members of a panel selected to evaluate CroPMan and to offer guidance on how to improve the system. The team recently participated in a training session at the Blackland Research and Education Center.
He explained how the model helps provide farmers with viable cropping options. “For instance, we can evaluate soybean maturity groups to determine which would do best under specific conditions.”
“We get an opportunity to evaluate several options,” says Jeff Stapper, County Extension agent in San Patricio County. “This is an in-season management tool that allows us to alter crop options based on real conditions.”
Gerik agrees. “Extension agents can run scenarios for growers and help them decide on crops, acreage and production practices. If a crop is hailed out, they can evaluate replanting options, based on estimated losses. We can look at a 50 percent leaf surface, for instance, and determine yield and compare that with replanting. We also can evaluate alternative crops.”
John Farris, Extension agent in Dawson County, says risk management may help farmers survive in a tight economy.
“We can project weather, based on the historical data included in the model, and look at planting options. I think this program will encourage farmers to keep better records. They can use information to make real-time management decisions.”
Farris says farmers in his area of the High Plains face severe weather losses every year.
“If we get hail damage, we have to make decisions quickly. This program can speed up the process.”
Farris says working with farmers during the off-season to create a farm database will be crucial. “We need to build a base so we can run this program quickly if we have to.”
He says setting the database up initially will be time-consuming. “But we can develop sample programs and plug in individual farmers' data, such as fertilization, crop options, soil types, etc. We can build a template that fits about 90 percent of the farms in our area.”
The program includes both historical data from every county in Texas plus a database on some three-dozen crops, but it also allows users to customize programs for a specific farm, a specific field, or a particular part of a field.
Fromme and Stapper demonstrated program adaptability by running grain sorghum research data collected last year near Corpus Christi. They already knew final yield data. The first few runs turned up yields significantly lower than the actual test.
Harman and Gerik examined the comparison and suggested changing parameters to match conditions in Corpus Christi. For instance, the grain sorghum model included varieties that were adapted to shorter growing seasons. They also had to rework weather data and soil types.
When the model included conditions that mirrored those in the test, yield results were almost identical.
Harman says CroPMan has been through a long evolution. “I started using a predecessor in 1985,” he says. “Technology transfer, unfortunately, is very slow and it takes time to get this kind of program into use.”
The current model is based on the Environmental Policy-Integrated Climate Model (EPIC). EPIC operates as the engine for CroPMan.
Gerik says the current version represents contributions from many scientists. Jimmy Williams developed EPIC. Larry Francis and John Greiner worked on visual basic programming. Melanie Magre worked with database, help file maintenance and testing, as well as developing a user's manual.
Avery Meinardus helps with EPIC program support, and Evelyn Steglich works on model validation.
Gerik says specialists from across the state will come to Temple for CroPMan training. “We will make the program available to very county as quickly as possible,” he says.
Fromme says initial users likely will include farmers with thorough records. “Crop consultants also will find the program extremely helpful as they advise their clients,” he says.
Gerik and Harman say that data generated from CroPMan will help farmers deal with bankers, crop insurance adjusters and government agencies as they determine crop losses, historical yield data and other information essential for program participation.