Main authors: R.K. Laursen, F. Bondgaard, P. Schipper, K. Verloop, L. Tendler, R. Cassidy, L. Farrow, D. Doody, F. A. Nicholson, J. R. Williams, I. Wright, J. Rowbottom, I. A. Leitão, A. Ferreira, B. Hasler, M. Glavan, A. Jamsek, N. Surdyk, J. van Vliet, P. Leendertse, M. Hoogendoorn and L. Jackson-Blake.
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »R.K. Laursen et al. (2019) Evaluation of Decision Supports Tools. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 5.2 216 pp


A comprehensive review and survey of Decision Support Tools (DSTs) currently in use in the FAIRWAY case studies is described in »Survey and review of existing decision support tools. Of the 36 DSTs  identified as most relevant, 12 were selected for further investigation to see if a tool developed in a particular national context could be used or provide inspiration elsewhere (»Evaluation of decision support tools). Here we describe the tool evaluated for potential use in the Anglian Region case study.

Contents table
1. Selection of DST for evaluation in Anglian Region case study
2. Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides 
[Note: Because of the resolution of the images, it is difficult to see the detail in some of the figures and tables. See the »full report for more legible originals.]

1. Selection of DST for evaluation in Anglian Region case study

The Anglian Region Case Study covers three areas in Eastern England where surface water pesticides are found in drinking water resources (»Anglian Region, UK case study). The case study activity is a social science one. The University of Lincoln (UoL) co-ordinated surveys of farmers in the three areas to understand how different interactions with the water company, Anglian Water, might result in long term changes in approaches to understanding and responding to issues of surface water contamination with pesticides. The three areas are:

  1. ‘Limited intervention’ (control) – using an area, the Cringle Brook catchment, where there has been little Anglian Water agricultural advisory intervention with the agricultural community;
  2. ‘Network engagement’ using the Louth Canal catchment where for three years the water company agricultural adviser has been working closely with agronomists and others to raise awareness of the challenges of pesticides, particularly metaldehyde (a pesticide used to control slugs in a range of crops) in drinking water resources; and
  3. ‘Ecosystem services’ using 6 reservoir catchments where a payment was made to farmers to change from metaldehyde to alternative products, aiming for 100% land manager engagement.

Following the sentiment for the case study of employing social science observation, and in particular the ‘engagement’ process mentioned in b) the researchers of UoL were keen to assess whether a Decision Support Tool could be used by agronomists and land managers to enhance knowledge of pesticides that can contaminate drinking water resources. The Environment Yardstick for Pesticides seemed a natural choice.

2. Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides

The Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides provides an overview of the environmental pressures generated by all crop protection agents permitted on the Netherlands market (see » It enables the user to compare these agents and to choose the least harmful crop protection strategy. By paying a subscription the service is unlimited, but it is possible to compare up to three products at no cost. The Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides, first developed in 1990 contains data (pesticide properties and exposure models) from the Dutch Authorisation Board and European authorisation guidelines used to estimate environmental impact. It does not take into account all possibilities but the data includes environmental impact factors such as soil life, water life and groundwater leaching (using regulatory submission), compatibility with Integrated Pest Management (using Koppert data base and Pesticide Property Database) and risk to user (product label information). Variables that can be added are dosage, soil organic matter, season of application and estimate of spray drift risk. Therefore, the The Environment Yardstick for Pesticides gives a risk indication based on European authorisation guidelines.

2.1 Assessment

In England crop production advice is provided by agronomists. The BASIS Certificate in Crop Protection is a legal requirement for anyone advising on or selling pesticides in the UK (red circle in Figure 9). UoL is one of the main providers of the training required to gain and maintain the BASIS Certificate in Crop Protection. UoL also provides occasional alumni days and many of the additional advanced training modules shown below. In addition to agronomists, some farmers also seek to obtain the BASIS Certificate in Crop Production qualification.

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Figure 9

University of Lincoln researchers were able to access groups of agronomists and farmers who were attending various training courses and events held at the University. Delegates came from a wide area, but mainly from the eastern and east midlands region of England within which our Case Study areas lie. In the following results a BASIS qualified agronomist or farmer is one who has passed the BASIS Certificate in Crop Protection.

As a result of the above backgrounds, we tested the DST by means of

  • Phase 1: an initial survey to determine current DST use, asking delegates on 3 advanced BASIS courses, and receiving 22 responses.
  • Phase 2: a survey in winter/spring 2019, asking delegates at two events. Some 70 practicing agronomists and BASIS qualified farmers attended an alumni event. A further 50 or so farmers, some BASIS qualified, with their BASIS qualified agronomists attended a training day.

2.2 Testing

Phase 1: November - December 2018

30 BASIS qualified agronomists and advisors (22) and farmers (7) and others (2) were surveyed to find out which were their preferred existing (in England) DSTs. We asked what they needed from a DST. One person stated they were both farmer and agronomist, 20 were male, 6 were female and 4 did not say.

We provided a choice of nitrate DSTs commonly used in England and asked which ones each person used, and to rate the products they used, where 1 = not at all useful and 6 = extremely useful. The nitrate DST results are shown in Table 13.

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Table 13
D5.2 tab14
Table 14
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Figure 10

Most respondents mentioned the »Nutrient Management Guide (RB209), a long standing defra and now AHDB funded document, considered to be the authoritative source for information for fertiliser recommendations in England. 22 respondents used 1 or more bespoke advisory software and in general are satisfied with the outputs, giving an average score of 4.8 to 6. Standalone publications (apart from the Nutrient Management Guide) are used by fewer respondents. However, when asked for additional free text comments on such documents these included ‘know, but don’t use’, ‘don’t use but should’ and ‘useful but don’t use’. Overall the data suggests a move from paper-based to on-line tools.

The responses for pesticides was less clear (Table 14). There appeared to be fewer pesticide tools in the market place.

Again the most widely used products were bespoke advisory tools, with 25 respondents scoring the products from 4.9 to 5.5 out of 6. The UK Pesticide Guide is an authoritative source of information and two free text comments suggested that there is a shift from such traditionally paper based sources to an online service.

The group was asked for their general opinion in free text of DSTs and this is shown in a word cloud in Figure 10.

Phase 2: February 2019

UoL researchers presented information on the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides to 120 agronomists and farmers at one BASIS alumni event and at one event organised by a group of independent agronomists for their farmers. The process comprised

  1. The speaker showed 6 slides (Figure 11)
  2. Then did a live demonstration of the DST using the »CLM website,
  3. Then showed a summary sheet (for potatoes) and
  4. Then answered questions.
  5. Then everyone was asked to complete a voluntary survey.

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Figure 11

From the 120 survey forms passed out, 70 forms were returned. Not all respondents answered every question. Therefore the responses below are based on those who responded. Farmers and agronomists were analysed separately in case there were distinct differences. Then an aggregate for all responses including those who did not state whether they were agronomists of farmers, was analysed. Below are the key questions:

Question 1: Please could you rate how important it is for an agronomist to understand the impact of pesticides on water quality

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Question 1

Comment: Agronomists who responded showed a clear indication that understanding the impact of pesticides on water is very important. Farmers placed slightly less importance on their agronomists having this understanding.

Question 2: Please could you state how frequently you take into consideration the environmental impact of pesticides on water quality when making (pesticide) recommendations?

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Question 2

Comment: Taking scores 4, 5 and 6 as positive, the difference between agronomists (82%) and farmers (78%) is small.

Question 3: Please could you scale how frequently you use the following information sources on the environmental impact of pesticides on water quality?

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Question 3

Comment: Most sources identified are positively considered. Taking a score of 5 and 6 as the most positive then agronomy software along with product label are frequently used as a source of information on environmental impact.

Question 4: For the information sources rates 3 and above in question 3, please rate them for user friendly format.

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Question 4

Comment: Taking categories 5 and 6 as positive, then it is interesting to note the poorer scores for both the product label and the Voluntary Initiative Environmental Information Sheets. Apart from the recommendation sheet, the label is the main source of information for the sprayer operator and was not valued as highly as other tools. The EIS sheets are a source of similar information (environmental risk, including to water) to Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides but in this survey they are deemed less user friendly than other sources of information. The EIS sheets are held in an online database and so may be hard to make ‘like for like’ comparisons.

Question 5: State the relevance of the information in influencing your decision on selecting active ingredients accounting for their environmental impact on water.

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Question 5

Comments: It is interesting to note that BASIS courses are perceived as most relevant along with product label. For the farmer, bespoke recommendation generated using the agronomy software and sent by the agronomist, is likely to include information on ideal weather conditions for spraying, label restrictions etc.

After demonstrating the CLM Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides we asked the respondents questions on the product as follows

Question 10: Would you use the Environmental Yardstick as a standalone decision support tool to inform your decisions on pesticide recommendations if the data was made relevant to UK conditions and products?

D5.2 fig11q10
Question 10
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Comments: Two thirds of respondents would consider using the Yardstick as a standalone. This is a curious response since it was clear from written feedback in the free text boxes provided in the survey that many farmers and agronomists would prefer a product that could be built into existing software products. It should be noted that a few of individuals, mainly famers spoke in person to express support for a tool that differentiates products based on environmental impacts and that this had not really occurred to them as a possible concept before.

Question 11: If you answered yes to Q10 please could you list the features which you consider useful?

Free text points that were appreciated and considered useful in the Yardstick, and a wish list of what could be included was as follows

  • Keen on the colour coded approach to risk assessment
  • Quick access o Easy to use
  • One stop reference point for pesticide selection incorporates all products
  • App for smart phone /ipad
  • Internet web user friendly
  • NOT STANDALONE – integrate into current software such as Gatekeeper
  • Include operator safety o Include soil and water toxicity
  • Include risk to the environment
  • Include harvest interval
  • Include effective dose rate
  • Include growth stage
  • Include crop type
  • Include soil organisms
  • Include pollinators
  • Include soil moisture/temperature
  • Use in conjunction with application technology such as spray drift reduction

Question 12: If you answered no to Q10 please explain your answer.

Free text reasons given for not wanting to use the Yardstick as a standalone tool included:

  • The system needs to become legislative and incorporated into something like pro-check to ensure best practice.
  • Not a big selection of products in vegetables anyway.
  • Would you have qualified a ‘due diligence’ challenge in court? Label is paramount.
  • At this point I don't know enough about the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides.
  • Has to be integrated into sentinel.
  • Dangerous in hands of uneducated. e.g retailers, environmentalists. Allows the uneducated to make decisions (or think they can).
  • Lots of factors need to be taken into consideration but more information is always welcome.
  • Not a standalone tool - needs to be incorporated with recommendations.
  • It should be part of current software.
  • Many other sources of information needed e.g weed, disease pressure etc.
  • Would need to be incorporated into other software as time consuming
  • It would have to have industry approval before I would consider it the standalone.
  • Needs to fit within current systems.
  • Too many systems.
  • Needs to (be) integrated into existing systems - one stop shop.
  • Needs to be on label, incorporate into supermarket PPO requirements / policies.

Comments: Many responses fell into two categories. Several respondents would want the tool to be incorporated into existing DSTs. Others feared that as a standalone product, using the ‘traffic light’ style colours in the DST, and making it appear that some products might be inferior to others; could cause stakeholders to further restrict an already depleted choice of actives without taking into account other factors such as efficacy, requirement for repeated applications etc.

Question 13: If the information provided by the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides was incorporated into current DSTs, would this be more useful than a standalone tool to inform your pesticide recommendations with reference to their environmental risk on water quality?

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Question 13

Comment: Agronomists considered it more useful than farmers did to envisage the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides incorporated into existing software. Overall there is an interest in seeing the Yardstick incorporated into existing information.

Concluding comments on the advantages and disadvantages of the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides are summarized in Table 15.

Table 15. Advantages and disadvantages of the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides in an England context.

Advantages that Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides has over existing tools available in the Case Study Area Disadvantages and Constraints
The tool brings together several sources of information in a way not currently thought to exist in England. Currently the tool is used in NL and new data would need to be added for use in the UK. Label and authorisation data would be available. IPM data might be less easy to find. However the Environmental Information Sheets (EIS) currently held on the Voluntary Initiative website could be a source.
All pesticides are considered together and can easily be compared. Farmers and agronomists would prefer the tool to be incorporated into existing tools.
The information appears to be more accessible to farmers and agronomists than the EIS Sheets in England. Concern by a few growers/agronomists, especially in the vegetable sector that any tool that highlights environmental risk could jeopardise use of the products by buyers.
The DST offers information that is of interest to farmers and agronomists including impact on water, soil and beneficials. Environmental impact is not the only aspect driving product choice – efficacy, harvest interval etc also need consideration.
  The ability to use different products to help avoid resistance build up is important.

2.3 Implementation

The information required to run the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides could be found for England, although some of the IPM data might be difficult and it might not be possible for all crops. If this data was found and adaptations made it would face challenges in adoption for a number of reasons including:

  • Perception that it is ‘yet another’ tool when there are already tools that farmers and agronomists are comfortable with.
  • The Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides currently only supports a few parameters, including rate and risk of drift, but others such as efficacy, need for repeated applications and harvest interval are excluded.
  • Whilst the red/amber/green was liked by some, others feared that markets, using selected information, might ask growers not to use ‘red’ products even though the red product might be the best, or only product to use for efficacy or other reasons.
  • From a scientific perspective the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides can only model likely impact – it cannot measure actual impact on water. It is most valuable as an informative tool.
  • From a drinking water resource perspective, if using tools like the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides reduces the range of products applied to farmland then a consequence might be that a particular product is selected more often with the risk that it might then appear in drinking water resources at higher than the Drinking Water Directive limits.

The Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides was considered an informative tool. The survey process high-lighted the popularity of on line and bespoke advisory tools as existing DSTs in the Anglian area, and respondents did like the Yardstick information. If the information were to be incorporated into existing sources such as the product label or advisory software it would appear to be a useful valuable addition. It would be important to ensure that the data provided within the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides could be seen by land managers receiving and acting on product recommendations, not just to the agronomist making the recommendation. From a scientific development point of view it is possible to foresee that the data in the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides could be combined with emerging data sets and spatial tools such as geolocation, soil type mapping and weather forecasting although this could take significant development effort. Counter to this, the simplicity of the existing tool makes it easy to make comparisons quickly. For example, if an agronomist is checking a particular product and notes that it has a high environmental impact it is easy using the existing Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides to check what impact alternatives would have. Adding complexity to the data might make it more difficult to do such simple comparisons.

If there was appetite to develop the tool for the UK then obvious organisations to discuss this with in addition to governmental organisations would be the bespoke software developers for products such as Gatekeeper and Muddy Boots, and the Voluntary initiative which hosts the Environmental Information Sheets on its website. This would help ensure that the tool complements or is integrated into existing information provision.



For full references to papers quoted in this article see » References

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