Agricultural landscapes provide us with a lot of valuable of goods and services. Some of these goods and services are fairly obvious. For example, agricultural landscapes, thanks to the farmers that work them, provide the world with with food, animal feed, and transportation fuel. Other goods and services, though not as obvious, are still very valuable. For example, the plants, microbes, and animals in agricultural landscapes regulate the quality and quantity of available water and the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Agricultural landscapes also host beneficial insects that pollinate our crops and control crop pests, and wildlife, like wildflowers and songbirds, that provide a source of recreation, education, and inspiration.
The degree to which agricultural landscapes provide these goods and services depends on the way land is used, and where different land uses are located. Sustainable agricultural landscapes are ones that provide ample food, while also providing clean water, clean air, and suitable habitat for beneficial insects and other wildlife. Sustainable agricultural landscapes are ones that are configured so that different land uses complement one another, leading to win-win situations. Sounds simple?
Attaining sustainable landscapes is not an easy endeavor in the modern world. Landscapes are made up of diverse communities with different, often conflicting, interests. But, just for a moment, let’s assume that everyone agreed with the idea of creating sustainable agricultural landscapes, that support a balance of goods and services. What would such a landscape actually look like? To make the process of envisioning sustainable agricultural landscapes a little less daunting, we have created SmartScape, a web-based application that allows users to make hypothetical changes to agricultural landscapes, and see what effect this change has on a variety of important goods and services.
We have been developing SmartScape for just over one year. We like to think of it as user-friendly mapping and computer-modeling software. SmartScape runs on a web browser. The SmartScape user interface has three main parts. The panels on the left side of the interface are for selecting parts of the landscape, and changing the current land use to something different. The panel at the center of the interface is for viewing the location of the selected land to be changed to a new land use. When land is selected and a land use change is specified, a single button click will launch several computer models that will give quick-and-dirty estimates of how delivery of important goods and services will change under the hypothetical land use transformation. After the computer models have completed, usually within a minute, a third set of panels pop up on the right side of the interface. This is where users can view the estimated outcomes of the hypothetical land use change.
SmartScape is a work in progress. At the moment, it is still very rough around the edges. In the near future, we hope to create a system for collecting user feedback, so that we can make the tool more intuitive and useful. In the mean time, give it a try. Also, in the near future, we hope to have a lot more documentation available that describes how to use the tool, the data sources behind the maps, the computer models running in the background, and the best way to interpret the output of the tool. For now, think of it as a simple tool for shaping agricultural landscapes and viewing the rough economic and environmental outcomes.
You can find SmartScape here (email us for username and password).
You can see an introductory video of SmartScape in action here.