Berry growers along California's Pacific Coast are using math in the form of a virtual farm model to help figure out what crops to grow.
Lea Jenkins, an associate math professor at Clemson University, was part of a group sponsored by the American Institute of Mathematics that created the models to help farmers make best use of their land and water.
The research helped growers in the Pajaro Valley confirm that they needed to grow more raspberries to remain profitable, according to a news release.
And that could have a ripple effect nationwide, since California supplies about 88 percent of the nation's fresh and frozen strawberries.
The models aren't just berry specific but can be applied elsewhere. Jenkins is looking to use them in South Carolina.
Models included a number of factors, such as costs, growing cycles and groundwater levels. Researchers worked with a berry farming cooperative in Watsonville, Calif.
The research began in 2011 after water restrictions had been put in place to project the valley's aquifer.
Researchers simulated a 100-acre farm where a virtual farmer planted and moved crops under various planting regimes. The model calculated profits and irrigation needs.
The results were used to evaluate strategies and suggest ways to maximize profit and minimize water use and water transport.
Even if the drought subsides, the model could still prove helpful to the valley's growers.
“We’re trying to give them a long-range plan under varying precipitation scenarios and pricing strategies to help them figure out what to do for the next 10 to 15 years,” Jenkins said in the release. “Even if the drought conditions ease, how can they manage their farm portfolios?”
The next step is to fine-tune the models by trying out different farming scenarios and then comparing them to what farmers are actually seeing in the fields.