Crop and Pasture Science Crop and Pasture Science Society
Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality

Re-inventing model-based decision support with Australian dryland farmers. 4. Yield Prophet® helps farmers monitor and manage crops in a variable climate

Z. Hochman A F , H. van Rees B C , P. S. Carberry D , J. R. Hunt B , R. L. McCown D , A. Gartmann B , D. Holzworth D , S. van Rees B , N. P. Dalgliesh D , W. Long E , A. S. Peake D , P. L. Poulton D and T. McClelland B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit (APSRU), CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, 306 Carmody Road, St Lucia, Qld 4067, Australia.

B BCG, PO Box 85, Birchip, Vic. 3483, Australia.

C Cropfacts P/L, 69 Rooney Rd, RSD Strathfieldsaye, Vic. 3551, Australia.

D Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit (APSRU), CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, PO Box 103, Toowoomba, Qld 4350, Australia.

E Ag Consulting Co., PO Box 70, Ardrossan, SA 5571, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email:

Crop and Pasture Science 60(11) 1057-1070
Submitted: 18 January 2009  Accepted: 23 July 2009   Published: 19 October 2009


In Australia, a land subject to high annual variation in grain yields, farmers find it challenging to adjust crop production inputs to yield prospects. Scientists have responded to this problem by developing Decision Support Systems, yet the scientists’ enthusiasm for developing these tools has not been reciprocated by farm managers or their advisers, who mostly continue to avoid their use.

Preceding papers in this series described the FARMSCAPE intervention: a new paradigm for decision support that had significant effects on farmers and their advisers. These effects were achieved in large measure because of the intensive effort which scientists invested in engaging with their clients. However, such intensive effort is time consuming and economically unsustainable and there remained a need for a more cost-effective tool. In this paper, we report on the evolution, structure, and performance of Yield Prophet®: an internet service designed to move on from the FARMSCAPE model to a less intensive, yet high quality, service to reduce farmer uncertainty about yield prospects and the potential effects of alternative management practices on crop production and income.

Compared with conventional Decision Support Systems, Yield Prophet offers flexibility in problem definition and allows farmers to more realistically specify the problems in their fields. Yield Prophet also uniquely provides a means for virtual monitoring of the progress of a crop throughout the season. This is particularly important for in-season decision support and for frequent reviewing, in real time, of the consequences of past decisions and past events on likely future outcomes.

The Yield Prophet approach to decision support is consistent with two important, but often ignored, lessons from decision science: that managers make their decisions by satisficing rather than optimising and that managers’ fluid approach to decision making requires ongoing monitoring of the consequences of past decisions.

Additional keywords: DSS, APSIM, climate risk, risk management, wheat, barley.


The authors of this paper acknowledge the support of CSIRO and BCG for their commitment to this applied systems research program. The financial support provided by Land and Water Australia’s (LWA) Managing Climate Variability R&D Program, the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts’ (DCITA) Information Technology Online (ITOL) Program, and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) is gratefully acknowledged. The project would not exist without the enthusiastic and vital participation of the many farmers, agronomic consultants, and state department consultants who are too numerous to name individually. The authors also acknowledge the significant contributions made by CSIRO’s Lisa Brennan, Toni Darbas, Jane Fisher, and Cristine Hall through feedback they provided on their work in evaluating the adoption of YP.


Brehmer B (1990) Strategies in real-time, dynamic decision making. In ‘Insights in decision making’. (Ed. R Hogarth) pp. 262–291. (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL)

Carberry PS, Hochman Z, Hunt JR, Dalgliesh NP, McCown RL, Whish JPM, Robertson MJ, Foale MA, Poulton PL, van Rees H (2009) Re-inventing model-based decision support with Australian dryland farmers. 3. Relevance of APSIM to commercial crops. Crop & Pasture Science 60, 1044–1056.

Carberry PS, Hochman Z, McCown RL, Dalgliesh NP, Foale MA, Poulton PL, Hargreaves JNG, Hargreaves DMG, Cawthray S, Hillcoat N, Robertson MJ (2002) The FARMSCAPE approach to decision support: farmers’, advisers’, researchers’ monitoring, simulation, communication and performance evaluation. Agricultural Systems 74, 141–177.
CrossRef |

Christian KR , Freer M , Donnelly JR , Davidson JL , Armstrong JS (1978) ‘Simulation of grazing systems.’ (Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation: Wageningen, The Netherlands)

Dalgliesh NP , Foale MA (1998) ‘Soil matters—monitoring soil water and nitrogen in dryland farming.’ (Agricultural Production Systems Research Unit: Toowoomba, Qld)

Dalgliesh NP , Wockner G , Peake A (2006) Delivering soil water information to growers and consultants. In ‘Proceedings of the 13th Australian Agronomy Conference’. 10–14 Sept. 2006, Perth, W. Aust. (Australian Society of Agronomy) Available at:

Dalgliesh NP, Foale MJ, McCown RL (2009) Re-inventing model-based decision support with Australian dryland farmers. 2. Pragmatic provision of soil information for paddock-specific simulation and farmer decision making. Crop & Pasture Science 60, 1031–1043.

Dimes JP , Freebairn DM , Glanville SF (1996) HOWWET? A tool for predicting fallow water storage. In ‘Proceedings 8th Australian Agronomy Conference’. pp. 201–210. Available at:

Donnelly JR, Moore AD, Freer M (1997) GRAZPLAN: Decision support systems for Australian grazing enterprises. I. Overview of the GRAZPLAN project and a description of the MetAccess and LambAlive DSS. Agricultural Systems 54, 57–76.
CrossRef |

Hargreaves D , Hochman Z (2004) FARMSCAPE Online—Interactive internet support for farmers’ situated learning and planning. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Publication No. 04/048.

Hayman P (2004) Decision support systems in Australian dryland farming: a promising past, a disappointing present and an uncertain future. In ‘Proceedings for the 4th International Crop Science Congress’. Brisbane, Qld, 26 Sept.–1 Oct. 2004. (The Regional Institute Ltd: Gosford, NSW) Available at:

Hearn AB (1994) OZCOT: a simulation model for cotton crop management. Agricultural Systems 44, 257–299.
CrossRef |

Hearn AB , Brook KD , da Roza GD , Ashburner NA (1985) SIRATAC: a computer based crop management system. In ‘Proceedings of the 44th Plenary Meeting. International cotton Advisory Committee on Cotton Production: Seminar on Crop Protection (emphasis on insect control)’. Oct. 1985, Sydney, NSW. (International Cotton Advisory Committee: Washington, DC)

Hochman Z, Holzworth DP, Hunt JR (2009) Potential to improve on-farm wheat yield and water-use efficiency in Australia. Crop & Pasture Research 60, 708–716.
CrossRef |

Jeffrey SJ, Carter JO, Moodie KB, Beswick AR (2001) Using spatial interpolation to construct a comprehensive archive of Australian climate data. Environmental Modelling & Software 16, 309–330.
CrossRef |

Johnston RM, Barry SJ, Bleys E, Bui EN, Moran CJ, Simon DAP, Carlile P, McKenzie NJ, Henderson BL, Chapman G, Imhoff M, Maschmedt D, Howe D, Grose C, Schoknecht N, Powell B, Grundy M (2003) ASRIS: the database. Australian Journal of Soil Research 41, 1021–1036.
CrossRef |

Keating BA, Carberry PS, Hammer GL, Probert ME, Robertson MJ, Holzworth D, Huth NI, Hargreaves JNG, Meinke H, Hochman Z, McLean G, Verburg K, Snow V, Dimes JP, Silburn M, Wang E, Brown S, Bristow KL, Asseng S, Chapman S, McCown RL, Freebairn DM, Smith CJ (2003) The Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM): its history and current capability. European Journal of Agronomy 18, 267–288.
CrossRef |

Littleboy M, Silburn DM, Freebairn DM, Woodruff DR, Hammer GL, Leslie JK (1992) Impact of soil erosion on production in cropping systems. I. Development and validation of a simulation model. Australian Journal of Soil Research 30, 757–774.
CrossRef |

Manschadi AM , Hochman Z , Mclean G , deVoil P , Holzworth D , Meinke H (2006) APSIM-Barley model—adaptation of a wheat model to simulate barley growth and development. In ‘Ground-breaking stuff. Proceedings of the 13th Australian Agronomy Conference’. 10–14 Sept. 2006, Perth, W. Aust. (Eds NC Turner, T Acuna, RC Johnson) Available at:

McCown RL (2002a) Locating agricultural Decision Support Systems in the troubled past and socio-technical complexity of ‘models for management’. Agricultural Systems 74, 11–25.
CrossRef |

McCown RL (2002b) Changing systems for supporting farmers’ decisions: problems, paradigms, and prospects. Agricultural Systems 74, 179–220.
CrossRef |

McCown RL, Brennan LE, Parton KE (2006) Learning from the historical failure of farm management models to aid farm management practice: 1. The rise and demise of theoretical models of farm economics. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 57, 143–156.
CrossRef |

McCown RL, Carberry PS, Hochman Z, Dalgliesh NP, Foale MA (2009) Re-inventing model-based decision support with Australian dryland farmers. 1. Changing intervention concepts during 17 years of action research. Crop & Pasture Science 60, 1017–1030.

McCown RL, Hammer GL, Hargreaves JHG, Holzworth DP, Freebairn DM (1996) APSIM: a novel software system for model development, model testing and simulation in agricultural systems research. Agricultural Systems 50, 255–271.
CrossRef |

McCown RL, Hochman Z, Carberry PS (2002) Probing the enigma of the decision support system for farmers: learning from experience and from theory. Agricultural Systems 74, 1–10.
CrossRef |

National Land & Water Resources Audit (2001) Landuse change, productivity & development—productivity changes Final Report of Theme 5.1, August 2001. Available at:

Nicholls N, Drosdowsky W, Lavery B (1997) Australian rainfall variability and change. Weather 52, 66–72.

Orasanu J , Connolly T (1993) The reinvention of decision making. In ‘Decision making in action: models and methods’. (Eds GA Klein, J Orasanu, R Calderwood, CE Zsambok) pp. 1–23. (Aablex Publishing Corp.: Norwood, NJ)

Senge P (1990) ‘The fifth discipline: the art & practice of the learning organization.’ (Doubleday Currency: New York)

Shapira Z (1997) ‘Risk taking: a managerial perspective.’ (Russell Sage Foundation: New York)

Simon HA (1955) A behavioral model of rational choice. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 69, 99–118.
CrossRef |

Stone PJ , Hochman Z (2004) If interactive decision support systems are the answer, have we been asking the right questions? In ‘Proceedings for the 4th International Crop Science Congress’. Brisbane, Qld, 26 Sept.–1 Oct. 2004. (The Regional Institute Ltd: Gosford, NSW) Available at:

Stone RC, Auliciems A (1992) SOI phase relationships with rainfall in eastern Australia. International Journal of Climatology 12, 625–636.
CrossRef |

Stone RC, Hammer GL, Marcussen T (1996) Prediction of global rainfall probabilities using phases of the Southern Oscillation Index. Nature 384, 252–255.
CrossRef |

Wang E , van Oosterom EJ , Meinke H , Asseng S , Robertson MJ , Huth NI , Keating BA , Probert ME (2003) The new APSIM-Wheat model—performance and future improvements. In ‘Solutions for a better environment. Proceedings of the 11th Australian Agronomy Conference’. Geelong, Victoria. Available at:

Woodruff DR (1992) ‘WHEATMAN’ a decision support system for wheat management in sub-tropical Australia. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 43, 1483–1499.
CrossRef |

Zuber-Skerritt O (1993) Improving learning and teaching through action learning and action research. Higher Education Research & Development 12, 45–58.
CrossRef |

Rent Article (via Deepdyve) Export Citation Cited By (56)