Toward a new generation of agricultural system data, models, and knowledge products: State of agricultural systems science

James W. Jones*, John M. Antle, Bruno Basso, Kenneth J. Boote, Richard T. Conant, Ian Foster, H.C.J. Godfray, Mario Herrero, Richard E. Howitt, Sander Janssen, Brian A. Keating, Rafael Munoz-Carpena, Cheryl H. Porter, Cynthia Rosenzweig, Tim R. Wheeler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

118 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-288
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • Agricultural data
  • Crop models
  • Economic models
  • Integrated agricultural systems models
  • Livestock models
  • Use cases

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