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The circuitous path to the comparison of simulated values from crop models with field observations

  • A. WEISS (a1) and W. W. WILHELM (a2)

Abstract

The Journal of Agricultural Science, Cambridge has been a fixture in dissemination of crop simulation models and the concepts and data upon which they are built since the inception of computers and computer modelling in the mid-20th century. To quantify the performance of a crop simulation model, model outputs are compared with observed values using statistical measures of bias, i.e. the difference between simulated and observed values. While applying these statistical measures is unambiguous for the experienced user, the same cannot always be said of determining the observed or simulated values. For example, differences in accessing crop development can be due to the subjectivity of an observer or to a definition that is difficult to apply in the field. Methods of determining kernel number, kernel mass, and yield can vary among researchers, which can add errors to comparisons between experimental observations and simulated results. If kernel moisture is not carefully determined and reported it can add error to values of grain yield and kernels per unit area regardless of the protocol used to collect these data. Inaccurate determination of kernel moisture will also influence computation of grain protein or oil content. Problems can also be associated with input data to the simulation models. Under-reporting of precipitation values from tipping bucket rain gauges, commonly found on automated weather stations, can introduce errors in results from crop simulation models. Using weather data collected too far from an experimental site may compound problems with input data. The importance of accurate soil and weather input data increases as the environment becomes more limiting for plant growth and development. Problems can also arise from algorithms that calculate important parameters in a model, such as daylength, which is used to determine a photoperiod response. Errors in the calculation of photoperiod can be related to the definition of sunrise and sunset and the inclusion or exclusion of civil twilight or to the improper calculation of the solar declination. Even the simple calculation of the daily mean air temperature can have an impact on the results from a non-linear algorithm. During a period when crop simulation modelling is moving in the difficult direction of incorporating genomic-based inputs, the critical importance of careful and accurate collection and reporting of field data and the need to develop robust algorithms that accommodate readily available or easily acquired input data should not be forgotten. As scientists we have an obligation to provide the best available knowledge and understanding as possible. Avoiding potential pitfalls will assist us as we develop new knowledge and understanding and incorporate these concepts into new or modified crop simulation models.

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Corresponding author

To whom all correspondence should be addressed. Email: wwilhelm1@unl.edu

The circuitous path to the comparison of simulated values from crop models with field observations

  • A. WEISS (a1) and W. W. WILHELM (a2)

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