We review the current state of agricultural systems science, focusing in particular on the capabilities and limitations of agricultural systems models. We discuss the state of models relative to five different Use Cases spanning field, farm, landscape, regional, and global spatial scales and engaging questions in past, current, and future time periods. Contributions from multiple disciplines have made major advances relevant to a wide range of agricultural system model applications at various spatial and temporal scales. Although current agricultural systems models have features that are needed for the Use Cases, we found that all of them have limitations and need to be improved. We identified common limitations across all Use Cases, namely 1) a scarcity of data for developing, evaluating, and applying agricultural system models and 2) inadequate knowledge systems that effectively communicate model results to society. We argue that these limitations are greater obstacles to progress than gaps in conceptual theory or available methods for using system models. New initiatives on open data show promise for addressing the data problem, but there also needs to be a cultural change among agricultural researchers to ensure that data for addressing the range of Use Cases are available for future model improvements and applications. We conclude that multiple platforms and multiple models are needed for model applications for different purposes. The Use Cases provide a useful framework for considering capabilities and limitations of existing models and data.
Areas of Focus: Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.