Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 29, Number 1, January-March 2009
Page(s) 73 - 86
Published online 31 October 2008
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 29 (2009) 73-86
DOI: 10.1051/agro:2008050

Iterative design and evaluation of rule-based cropping systems: methodology and case studies. A review

Philippe Debaeke1, Nicolas Munier-Jolain2, Michel Bertrand3, Laurence Guichard3, Jean-Marie Nolot Vincent Faloya4, 5 and Patrick Saulas3

1  INRA, UMR 1248 INRA / ENSAT, Agrosystèmes et Développement Territorial, BP 52627, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France
2  INRA, UMR 1210 INRA / ENESAD / Université de Bourgogne, Biologie et Gestion des Adventices, 17 rue de Sully, BP 86510, 21065 Dijon, France
3  INRA, UMR 211 INRA / AgroParisTech, Agronomie, BP 1, 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France
4  INRA, Domaine Expérimental d'Auzeville, BP 52627, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France
5  INRA, Domaine Expérimental d'Époisses, BP 86510, 21065 Dijon, France

Accepted 6 August 2008; published online 31 October 2008

Abstract - The economic and regulatory context of crop production changes rapidly, but concerns about agricultural sustainability, including environmental impacts, are increasing steadily. To cope with complexity and uncertainty, innovative methodologies are required for designing, managing and evaluating prototype cropping systems. A generic approach combining iteratively design of cropping systems and evaluation of their performances is presented in this review article. It includes 5 main steps: (1) defining the set of goals and constraints for each cropping system, (2) identifying a suitable agronomic strategy, (3) formulating the consistent set of technical decision rules, (4) applying and evaluating the rule-based system, and (5) validating or refining the strategy and the rules. This methodology was applied to a range of environmental and production contexts, in a perspective of integrated crop production (ICP) prototyping. Three cropping system experiments conducted in France were brought together to demonstrate the potentialities of this system approach and discuss the methodological bottlenecks to address. The three case studies differed by the context of crop production and resource use: adaptation to limited irrigation water (Toulouse), introduction of innovative cropping systems (Versailles), and substitution of herbicides by non-chemical methods (Dijon). The consequences of the specific objectives in each case study on the experimental design and the evaluation process were discussed. Special attention was paid to the time step of the evaluation process, the duration of the improvement loops when prototyping cropping systems, the global evaluation of the systems and the evaluation of individual decision rules.

Key words: integrated cropping systems / long-term experiment / decision rules / agronomic evaluation

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© INRA, EDP Sciences 2008