Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sustainable Agriculture through Modeling

An acequia-irrigated field in Santa Fe, NM
A map of land use around Taos, NM
Irrigating agricultural land has been a major concern throughout history. When Spanish explorers began to settle in what would become New Mexico, they brought with them a system of communal irrigation management that they had learned in their turn from the Moors. This system, consisting of both the physical network of ditches and the social structure associated with their maintenance and utilization, persists to this day under the name "acequias". As water management issues emerge as an increasingly serious topic in the US Southwest, how sustainable are traditional, acequia-dependent forms of agriculture?

To investigate, Andrew Crooks and I developed a spatially explicit agent-based model of the area around the town of Taos, New Mexico. The model was coded in Java utilizing the MASON simulation toolkit and its GIS add-on, GeoMASON. The focus of the model was the farmer agents, who made choices about whether to participate in traditional agriculture (maintaining the acequia ditches and harvesting crops) or to sell their land (resulting in it permanently transitioning to residential use). Farming agents were also influenced by both the physical environment and social factors, including the selling habits of their neighbors and their own personal valuation of the traditional lifestyle. We track the overall conversion of land from farmland to non-agricultural land.

The simulation's interface

A paper documenting our findings was published in Computers, Environment and Urban Systems and is available here, and a video with a bit more detail about the setup and execution of the simulation is included below. A very attractive locally-produced '90s video with more information about acequias is available here!

A special thanks to Michael Cox and John Paul Gonzales for making this project possible!

Full Reference:
Wise, S. and Crooks, A. T. (2012), Agent Based Modelling and GIS for Community Resource Management: Acequia-based Agriculture, Computers, Environment and Urban Systems. Doi

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