Category Archives: Inspiring ideas

50 Years of Applying OR to Agriculture in Britain

I helped my boss Eric Audsley produce this paper (link) for the OR Society 50 conference in York 2008.  Luis Pla and I also wrote a related paper on the future prospects that made it to press at the second attempt with help from Andrew Higgins.

An engineering approach for sustainable systems

This paper summed up much of the thinking and research that I had been involved with for around a decade as a research scientist at the former Silsoe Research Institute at Bedfordshire. (Wrest Park is a fabulous Stately home and was a gorgeous setting for UKs public sector agricultural engineering institute)

In many ways I remain an heir to that legacy with the remaining team members at Cranfield University. My work lies under Systems Modelling for Decisions -mostly under 1 and 2, but dipping into the rest

Key headings from the paper

Systems Modelling for Decisions:

  1. Systems modelling for environmental
  2. Whole farm decisions and land use planning -the implications of farmers’ management decisions for environmental impacts
  3. Decision support for complex uncertain systems – stochastic dynamic programming and weed control strategies
  4. Linking process and systems models to support on-farm decision making – an example for fungicide does optimization

Control Engineering approaches to biological systems:

  1. Incorporating models in the control loop
  2. Control of multiple outputs -target growth but with limited emissions
  3. Advanced sensing techniques – a route to more complex control opportunities
    1. machine vision
    2. biological sensors
  4. Real-time machine control

OR 4 Conservation

Dr Siwan lovett gave a talk to Cranfield University about the foundation of Australia’s first Rver Restoration Centre (ARRC)

They key is the empowerment of local communities to take care of their Riparian habitats and to develop the capacity for local communities to exercise that power. It was important to identify and give voice to all stakeholders, espcially those that don’t have power, such as aboriginies. This sounded good territory for soft OR: Problem Structuring Methods, Soft Systems Methodology and Multi-Criteria Decision Making methods.

There are questions about some tools concerning anthropocentrism and mechanistic additivity.  In the first case we neglect that species are worth conserving regardless of mankind’s value of them.  In the second case we can neglect the fact that viable ecosystems are worth more than the sum of their parts.

A fascinating challenge is that of applied multi-disciplinary science in an academic setting.  Can the centre both deliver sustainable change at a community level as well as generate high impact research hits, which are the standard measure of academic excellence.

The communication of science will be key to their success. Some scientists are good at this and should be encouraged, but on other occassions it takes someone else. An example of the resistance to anyting ‘not invented here’ crops up with each stakeholder requiring the same information, but presented in their own style, e.g. sheep farmers will not accept litreature prepared for dairy farmers.