In the early 1980s, Chinese agricultural production reforms were implemented to break up the collective management pattern. The Contracting Out System of Collective Land was formed and carried out in order to improve the effective utilization of agricultural land. Under this management system, farmers undeniably have to bear all the capital cost of agricultural production, e.g., the purchase expense of farm machinery. However, in the early stages of the policies implementation, farmers did not have enough capital to purchase efficient but expensive agricultural machinery for improving the level of agricultural mechanization. In recent decades, with the increase of farmers income, especially by the Law of the Peoples Republic of China on Promotion of agricultural mechanization in 2004, much more agricultural machinery management corporations were established and the number of agricultural organization is expected to further increase in the future.
This organization type usually makes a profit by providing field operation services to local growers. Due to the complexity of Agricultural Field Operation (AFO), the execution of field operations needs to be carefully planned and highly controlled, in order to achieve organizational objectives in terms of work rate, quality and cost. Like other productive organization, considerable benefits in terms of costs reduction and efficiency improvement will be obtainable with a formalized management tool for field operations management which involves a number of interrelated subsystems, such as operational planning subsystem, operation control subsystem and logistics subsystem.
Recently, numerous researches have directed towards developing a dedicated
conceptual models for a specific management task of field operations. These
involve the Farm Management Information System (FMIS) (Nikkila
et al., 2010; Sorensen et al., 2010,
2011), the Business Activity Monitoring System (BAMS)
(Folinas et al., 2011; Tolmac
et al., 2011), the Decision Support System (DSS) (Perini
and Susi, 2004; Bochtis et al., 2012) and
the Fleet Management System (FMS) (Sorensen and Bochtis,
2010; Bochtis et al., 2011), etc. These mentioned
systems either belong to the operational planning level or field-logistics level
of field operations management system. However, in the real-life production
system, the management activities within agricultural field operation process
contain a range of logistical, economic and social links that constitute an
overall management system and trying to improve efficiencies requires capturing
for these linkages into a conceptual framework (Higgins
et al., 2004).
In this regard, this study, from a holistic view and scope of the system, proposes
a conceptual framework for agricultural field operations management by integrating
each subsystem. The objective of this study is to derive the contextual requirements
of AFOs system and provide an understanding of the integrated field operations
Agricultural field operations characteristics: Agricultural Field Operations
(AFOs) include a number of highly interconnected tasks which are often executed
by a fleet of homogeneous or heterogeneous agricultural machines in an efficient
manner. In general, field operations can be categorized in three types: material
input operations, material output operations and neutral operations (Bochtis
et al., 2007). These operations are characterized by a number of special
characteristics which include (a) Short operational time window, (b) Wide spatial
distribution, trafficability and workability issues (Bochtis,
2010), (c) Weather dependency, (d) Land availability restriction and (e)
Sustainability aspects (Folinas et al., 2010).
Concept of agricultural field operations system: Based on a procedural
definition of the system, the AFOs system is considered as the operating procedure
of agricultural mechanization production which is the management for field operations.
This constitutes the so-called management cycle, i.e., planning,
implementation and controlling. The agricultural field operations system plans
and implements the operational activities to apply agricultural input/output
to targeted requirements to meet production objectives and controls this process
to reduce or eliminate the degree of deviation of actual performance from the
FUNCTIONAL REQUIREMENTS OF AFOs SYSTEM
Functions concerning AFOs system: The functional requirements for the AFOs system were derived through a systematic analysis process which was based on the objectives for the AFOs program as a whole. Essentially, the following three main functions are to be executed in an integrated field operations system: (a) Operation function executed the operational service including all aspects of agricultural mechanization operation, such as the distribution of agricultural commodities by Application Unit (AU) within fields, the removal of biomass from the field by harvester and the transportation of various materials by transport vehicle, (b) Strategic planning function consists of decision-making of strategic issues and (c) Management function plans and controls agricultural field operations activities.
Relation of the basic functions involved in AFOs system: An outline
of the above mentioned three fundamental functions is presented in the following
while the flows of material, technological information and managerial information
are also indicated, using Fig. 1:
||The operation function is the key activity executed
by cooperative machines. In the three types of agricultural field operations,
IMF operation (e.g., seeding, spraying and fertilizing) involves the transportation
of a quantity of a commodity and distribution in the field area
by a PU; equivalently, OMF (e.g., harvesting) operation involves the removal
of biomass from the field by a PU (i.e., harvester) and rural and public
transportation by a SU. These two operation types involve a flow
of a material between the field and the depot or factory. However, the difference
is that the neutral operations such as tillage, cultivation and seedbed
preparation do not involve such a material flow
||The management function establishes a master operation planning
according to the planting planning or growers demands. Based on this
operation planning, it is decided which machine performs what operation
(machine assignment) and which routes to assign to each one and then the
actual field operation can be performed. However, the implementation of
field operations might be disturbed for various reasons (e.g., agricultural
machine breakdown, late delivery of raw materials). In order to reduce or
eliminate the difference between these actual results and the plan and schedule,
necessary control activities such as process control, quality control and
cost control are needed. All above-mentioned functions are related to management;
therefore, a series of such functions is called the flow of managerial
||The strategic planning function involves the establishment
of a strategic plan in both short and long terms based on the external information
(e.g., crop planting area, number of growers demand). Strategic management
planning in its wider meaning involves the long-term business planning,
profit planning, personnel planning and facility planning. It serves as
the basis of operation implementation. Therefore, a series of these functions
is called the flow of strategic management information
|| Framework of relation of the basic functions involved in
As mentioned above, AFOs are executed through the flow of materials, the flow
of technological information and the flow of managerial information. These three
flows are combined as shown in Fig. 1 and integrated in whole,
generally via computer networks with a common data/knowledge base, such that
the agricultural production organization can be operated efficiently and economically.
This constituted a structure and procedure for computer-integrated field operation
and information systems (Hitomi, 1996).
INTEGRATED FRAMEWORK OF AFOs SYSTEM
The integrated field operations management system of a agricultural machinery management enterprise is operated by the unification and coordination of the various interrelated functions and activities described above. This section provides a basic and general pattern of the integrated management system for Agricultural Field Operations (AFOs), following a framework depicted in Fig. 2.
Logistic system: The most important function in the agricultural machinery management enterprise is the operation function which is concerned with the material flow between different agricultural units (e.g., cropping field, facility unit, farm depot, factory, etc.). Taking crop harvest for example, one or more specific harvesters pull the biomass from the plant in the field while the harvested biomass is stored in a hopper on the harvester. When the harvester reaches its specified hopper capacity or load threshold, a transport vehicle approaches the harvester to unload material. After finishing the material transfer, the transport vehicle carries this material to a facility unit (e.g., reprocessing unit, factory, silo or farm depot, etc.). This is the logistic system which is a chain of collection, preprocessing and delivery for OMF operations. Equivalently, the logistic system involves a chain of procurement, inventory and distribution for IMF operations.
Operational planning system: Effective operation implementation conducted in the agricultural field logistic system is designed through the operational planning system. The major functions in this system include operational crop planning, machine assignment, path planning, material planning, manpower planning and process planning and scheduling. These functions establish detailed feasible plans/schedules for efficiently and economically operating the agricultural field logistic system.
Operation control system: During the implementation of agricultural field operations according to the operational planning, unforeseen situations often occur, e.g., the breakdown of primary machineries and delivery delay of raw materials. As a result, the logistic system cannot be executed as designed; the operation control system conducts follow-up or control. An audit of the progress and modification of the deviation of actual performances from the planned standards are performed: controlling operation resources (e.g., quality control, cost control, personnel control, facilities control and inventory control, etc.).
|| A basic framework of the integrated field operations management
Administrative planning system: This top management role supervises the stage of planning, implementation and control done in the logistic system. It issues appropriate directions and orders to such lower levels of the system. In this system proper management objectives and policies have to be established, so that the organization can grow under dynamically changing external and internal environments.
Service system: This executes, smoothly and effectively, the various functions of the administrative planning system, operational planning and control systems and the logistic system. Specifically, the information subsystem provides accurate information for various decision making points in the system at right times; the technology subsystem handles professional knowledge of operation technology, management technique, quality engineering, value analysis, etc., as a staff activity and the agronomic subsystem plans and develops crop production process.
Supporting system: This backs up the above-mentioned systems by acquiring
necessary resources (e.g., men, machines and money) and aiding in their effective
use. Specifically, the personnel subsystem acquires and allocates the operative
and managerial human skills; the facilities subsystem procures agricultural
machineries and the finance subsystem acquires and employs capital funds necessary
for business activities (Hitomi, 1996).
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
This study has derived the functional requirement of AFOs system and from a systematic perspective, provided a basic and general pattern of the integrated management system for mechanized Agricultural Field Operations (AFOs), in which 6 subsystems are integrated as a whole system. The conceptual framework provides an overall understanding of the integrated field operations management systems.
As further research, the validity of the framework in agricultural field operations service industries needs to be examined. Moreover, with both academic research and practitioner-driven initiatives creative efforts are required to further develop each subsystem.
The author thanks the editors and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. This research is partially sponsored by the Science and Technique R and D Program of Chongqing in China (CSTC2012GG-YYJS0319).