Luis F. Rodríguez and Ryan P. Goss
Current/recent activities on the project
The project is moving ahead on two fronts. On the hardware front, a prototype GPS tracking backpack is being developed in collaboration with Dr. Matt Darr from Iowa State University and Dr. Jeremiah Davis of Mississippi State University. Currently, the budget allows for the production of 10 units to be placed on cattle by mid to late spring.
On the software front a great deal of progress has been made in researching artificial life movement algorithms to be tested against future data from the cows on the Dudley Smith farm. Several interfaces are being developed to graphically display and visually manipulate the results of the current movement algorithm and to integrate a genetic algorithm data fitting tools.
The remainder of the semester will be spent finishing the development of the GPS tracking backpacks and data collection should begin towards the end of the semester. Further implementation of movement algorithms and the related interfaces is also planned for this semester. Work is also being done to implement the Java Genetic Algorithms Package (JGAP) to analyze the accuracy of the selected movement algorithms.
Key outcomes of the research
It has been recognized that agricultural production has a renewed focus on the quality of the products, not simply the quantity of the products. This is evidenced by the success of the organic and locally grown food markets. Such systems will invariably involve additional constraints. To be successful, we are seeking the tools to enable producers to be able to maneuver within these constraints. Thus, the goal of developing the GPS tracking system is to study the movement and behavior of the animals in order to understand the relationship between grazing rotation, soil compaction, crop yield, and animal health. Data collected with this system will be used to validate the movement algorithms and computer models of the system. Once validated, simulation experiments will be performed to identify new management practices to study the integration of the multiple objectives seen by the producer.
Opportunities for future research
In the near term, future expansion of the GPS tracking backpack to include sensors to monitor animal health is a goal. On the software side, the inclusion of multiple movement algorithms and optimization tools will be completed.
In the long term, this research is intended as a stepping stone towards the consideration of quality as well as quantity in integrated production systems where producers have multiple objectives and increasingly tight constraints. Beyond the realm of production agriculture within the context of agro-ecosystems, we see application of this approach to engineered ecosystems in many different contexts.
We see key opportunities for the results of this research to be utilized in calls for proposals offered by USDA SARE, USDA Managed Ecosystems, and NSF Coupled Natural and Human Systems.