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McDonald to offer course on systems analysis tools for agriculture

head shot of man in front of a brick wallAndy McDonald, Associate Professor in the SIPS Soil & Crop Sciences Section, is offering a new course on Systems analysis tools for problem solving in agriculture in Fall 2020. McDonald is a cropping systems ecologist who addresses global challenges to agricultural sustainability and food security through process-based agronomy, integrated systems analysis, development of decision frameworks, and by fostering alliances for technology scaling. Much of his current research program is anchored in South Asia where he previously led CIMMYT’s sustainable intensification program.

PLSCI 6940: Systems analysis tools for problem solving in agriculture

  • Fall Term, 2020
  • Wednesday 8:00 – 10:00 am (virtual instruction)
  • 1 credit (S/U only), graduate students or permission of instructor
  • Instructor:  Andrew McDonald (, Assoc. Prof – International Cropping Systems

Course Description:  Integrative assessment of agricultural systems forms an integral component of problem identification as well as the ex ante evaluation of potential solutions.   Nevertheless, there is no single assessment framework that works for all situations, and agricultural researchers and many development practitioners need to be conversant with several different type of systems analysis tools.  This course is intended to introduce students to a range of these tools by reviewing different classes of models, problems they can address, and the basics of use.  This course will be continued in the spring term with a focus on advanced applications with real data.

  • September 2: Course introduction, overview of key concepts, classes of tools, and software (Andrew McDonald)
  • September 9: An Introduction to System Dynamics Modeling (including Causal Loop Diagrams)
  • (Richard Dudley)
  • September 16: Dynamic simulation of the soil, plant, atmosphere system (Susan Riha)
  • September 23: Dynamic simulation:  model parameterization, application, and evaluation (Balwinder Singh, Andrew McDonald)
  • September 30: Accounting for GHG emissions from agriculture systems (Dominic Woolf)
  • October 7: Applying LCA frameworks (Sonam Sherpa)
  • October 14: Integrated crop-livestock simulation (Alison Laing)
  • October 21: Farming systems modelling and tradeoff analysis (Jeroen Groot)
  • October 28: Constructing, interpreting, and using farming systems typologies (Santiago
  • Ridaura Lopez)
  • November 4: Systems thinking for scaling of technologies (Lennart Woltering)
  • November 18: Predicting technology adoption dynamics (Brendan Brown)
  • November 25: Risk and value of information analysis (Keith Shepherd)
  • December 2: Developing a Theory of Change (Annalisa Raymer, Andrew McDonald)


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