The authors present an overview of agricultural systems models. Beginning with why systems are modeled and for what purposes, the paper examines types of agricultural systems and associated model types. The broad categories range from pictorial (iconic) models to descriptive analogue models to symbolic (usually mathematical) models. The uses of optimization versus non-optimizing mechanistic models are reviewed, as are the scale and aggregation challenges associated with scaling up from the plant cell to the landscape or from a farm enterprise to a world market supply-demand equilibrium Recent modeling developments include the integration of formerly stand-alone biophysical simulation models, increasingly with a unifying spatial database and often for the purpose of supporting management decisions. Current modeling innovations are estimating and incorporating environmental values and other system interactions. At the community and regional scale, sociological and economic models of rural community structure are being developed to evaluate long-term community viability. The information revolution is bringing new challenges in delivering agricultural systems models over the internet, as well as integrating decision support systems with the new precision agriculture technologies.


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