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FAO Forecasting Tool Expands Its Range of Crops to Include Alfalfa

AquaCrop is the crop growth simulation model created by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Playing an essential role in its development was Elías Fereres, a Professor Emeritus in the María de Maeztu Unit of Excellence at the University of Cordoba’s Department of Agronomy (DAUCO). This model, which after almost 20 years of life is the second most used in the world in research, allows simulating the response of crop yields according to climate, soil and irrigation management, something very important in areas where water is a limiting factor in production.

Until now, this model only allowed user the ability to simulatethe yield of annual crops (herbaceous crops with annual cycles), but not perennial crops. This has changedthanks to new work by the DAUCO and IAS - CSIC, which includes the simulation of alfalfa in AquaCrop, offeringvalid crop yield predictionsfor different climates and zones.
Alfalfa is a perennial forage crop that lasts 3 to 5 years in Mediterranean climates, and is cut several times each year,as it resproutsagain (4 to 8 cuts per year). To model the life cycle of this crop and to be able to predict harvests "there were two main challenges in the simulation, which were these periodic cuttings and resprouting during the same season, and the fact that alfalfa, as a perennial crop, stores reserves in autumn and uses them in spring to grow, so growth in spring is not only determined by photosynthesis, but also by these reserves that the plant stores," explained Professor Fereres.

Therefore, it was necessary to include in the model a routine describing both the transfer of photoassimilatesbetween the aerial part and the underground storage organs, and the plant's use of these assimilates for growth.
Yield data collected in Belgium, Turkey and Canada for different alfalfa cultivars, various years, and different field and irrigation management strategies, wasused to calibrate the model. 81 yield data points across different climates, varieties, zones, and irrigation schedules were used to verify this model, which constitutes a robust tool for predicting alfalfa production in different environments.

"The results were very good after this verification.We were able to simulate the performance with very good correlations between the simulated and the real data obtained," Fereresreported, since no systematic overestimation or underestimation was detected by the model.
AquaCrop's future challenges

By introducing the variables of crop, climate, soil and irrigation management (whether there is water or not and, if there is, how irrigation is distributed) it is possible to simulate the maximum yield that might be obtained in each case. In this way, irrigation can be adapted to optimize management for greater production.

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