Your best crop choice: get Clues

Dr Adriaan van Niekerk’s Clues computerised mapping system can already match optimal crops to Western Cape croplands and efforts are underway to expand it.
Issue date: 20 February 2009

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Dr Adriaan van Niekerk’s Clues computerised mapping system can already match optimal crops to Western Cape croplands and efforts are underway to expand it.

Anew web-based map system can help farmers decide on the best use of their land, including which crops to plant in a particular area. It also has applications in development and conservation.

The Cape Land Use Expert System (Clues) was developed by Dr Adriaan van Niekerk, a lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Geology, Geography and Environmental Studies. “The aim of the system is to help decision-makers, including farmers, planners and scientists, to find the optimal use of land,” he explains.
“Clues is different from other web-based systems because it analyses the expert knowledge the user enters and presents a map showing five levels of suitability – highly, moderately or marginally suitable, unsuitable at present and permanently unsuitable. By creating many scenarios using different crops and input parameters, the user can find the best use for a piece of land.”

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“Clues is very user-friendly. The user just enters the particular crop’s requirements and the system will produce a suitability map at the click of the mouse. Crop parameters include soil depth, soil texture, rainfall, minimum and maximum temperatures.”

Expansions on the cards
“Clues at present applies primarily to the Western Cape,” says Dr Van Niekerk. “We need to add more data so it becomes applicable to the whole country. It also applies only to perennial crops so we need to input the parameters for annuals as well.
“The idea is to fine-tune the parameters so one can identify areas suitable for individual crops such as wine grapes, or even suggest which cultivars to plant.”
The system currently being demonstrated shows the suitability of land for perennial crops, but it can be adapted for other crops. However, adding parameters is time-consuming. Literature or expert opinion must be sourced on each crop’s requirements, which must then be entered into the system.

Clues will eventually be accessible to everyone, but for now it’s only running on Stellenbosch University’s network. However, it’s already generating interest from organisations like Tiger Brands and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Dr van Niekerk will soon demonstrate the system to CSIR, and will expand it once he’s secured more funding.Dr Van Niekerk is pleased with his system but realistic: “Clues is a prototype,” he explains. “It still needs work and will probably never be finished – there will always be improvements to make.”
Contact Dr Adriaan van Niekerk at Stellenbosch University on (021) 808 3101 or e-mail [email protected]     |fw

How it works

Clues consists of five components: a land unit database (LUD), knowledge base, inference engine, web map service (WMS) and graphical user interface (GUI).
The LUD consists of land units (polygons) and land properties (attributes). Each user’s specific land use requirement rules are stored in the knowledge base. The inference engine uses these rules to rate the suitability of each land unit in the LUD. The WMS maps the result, which is then presented to the users.
Users can direct the entire analysis through a user-friendly GUI.