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Modelling farmers' action: decision rules capture methodology and formalisation structure: a case of biomass flow operations in dairy farms of a tropical island

  • J. Vayssières (a1), P. Lecomte (a1), F. Guerrin (a2) and U. B. Nidumolu (a1)
Abstract

Studies on decision-making processes are generally aimed at identifying farmers' needs and predicting farmers' reactions to technical innovations. In the present paper we study these decision-making processes, with reference to dairy farms, to build a whole-farm computer model (WFM) which simulates farmers' actions. In this study, (i) a multi-tool and multi-step methodology is proposed, which can also be qualified as an iterative and interactive methodology to reveal decision rules and (ii) a generic structure to formalise how action is conducted, termed ‘structure for action modelling’ (SAM). In the case of forage crop-dairy cattle systems, we have tested the current methodology to capture the decision rules and the SAM to represent action concerning farm management. An ‘immersion’ approach, inspired by the ethnographic approach has been adapted to access operational technical decisions (taken on a daily basis). This study helped in understanding how detailed and large approaches can be complementary and can facilitate identification of what can be generalised in a conceptual model. To define the generic structure (SAM), a set of descriptive variables concerning technical operations has been selected. The conceptual model generated is composed of decision rules reconstructed by researchers with farmers' committed participation. The validation method is based on participatory approaches and on comparing of actions simulated by the model with practices on the ground. Not contesting the fact that farmers plan their action, this study also revealed the importance of adjustments in action. For example, 20 to 55% of the time the planned food ration is not distributed to the milking cows because of forage unavailability. We also discuss how this structure can facilitate integration of decision mechanisms in biophysical models and how such an integration of adjustment decision rules can produce more realistic simulations of technical actions. Error of biotechnical evaluations done by the WFM is reduced from about 25% to about 10% with the application of the proposed method.

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