Decision support tools
In this section of FAIRWAYiS we review, adapt, demonstrate and evaluate decision support tools (DSTs) for advice, training and communication in order to inform mitigation and establish common awareness for diffuse pollution of vulnerable drinking water resources among farmers and water suppliers. In relation specifically to national legislation we:
- review of existing decision support tools used by farmers, farm advisors and water managers in water, nutrient and pesticide management;
- evaluate a selection of decision support tools and measures in FAIRWAY case study sites at farm, catchment and regional scale;
- assess costs and benefits of the selected tools for farmers, water companies and society;
- develop a decision-support framework for advice, training and communication strategies to establish common awareness for diffuse pollution of vulnerable drinking water resources among farmers;
- develop a mobile app to provide guidance on the application, disposal and environmental risks associated with different pesticides in drinking water catchments.
Evaluation of decision support tools [D5.2] Public access
Decision support tool framework [D5.4, D5.7] Public access
|F.A. Nicholson, J.R. Williams, R. Cassidy, D. Doody, A. Ferriera, A. Jamsek, Ø. Kaste, S., Langas, R. K. Laursen, P. Schipper, N. Surdyk, L. Tendler, J. van Vliet and K.Verloop
|»Nicholson, F.A. et al. (2018) Survey and Review of Decision Supports Tools. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 5.1 166 pp
Results from this research task have also been published as a scientific paper:
- Nicholson, F.; Krogshave Laursen, R.; Cassidy, R.; Farrow, L.; Tendler, L.; Williams, J.; Surdyk, N.; Velthof, G. How Can Decision Support Tools Help Reduce Nitrate and Pesticide Pollution from Agriculture? A Literature Review and Practical Insights from the EU FAIRWAY Project. Water 2020, 12, 768. https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4441/12/3/768/htm
This section of FAIRWAYiS contains a comprehensive overview of decision support tools (DSTs) used by farmers, farm advisors, water managers and policy makers in the EU for water, nutrient and pesticide management. It encompasses paper-based guidelines, farm-level software and phone apps, and complex models intended for research studies. The overall purpose of the review was to select a subset of DSTs that could be further assessed by the multi-actor platform (MAP) leaders for their potential suitability in managing water quality within the case study catchments of the FAIRWAY project (»Multi-actor platforms).
Structured searches of the scientific literature largely returned details of research-based modelling tools; therefore the unique combination of expertise and practical experience of the project participants was used to identify farm-scale tools and other locally developed DSTs that were assessed as being important in a national context.
»Definitions and methodology
More than 150 DSTs were identified in total, of which 36 were selected for further investigation based on their national importance and relevance to the project aims. For these DSTs, a set of Information Sheets were produced to provide an easily accessible source of key information on tool capabilities, and a subset were demonstrated to a group of project partners and case study leaders at a Workshop.
»Decision support tool short list
A classification scheme was devised to better understand the target users of the DSTs and the types of support they were intended to provide. The DSTs were separated into those developed to support water quality/agri-environment policy makers operating at a regional or national level, and those intended to support sustainable nutrient management at the farm level. The DSTs were further divided into groups depending on whether they provided support for i) evaluation of current practices; ii) strategic advice for farm management and implementation of measures; or iii) on-farm operational management.
»Types of decision support tool
Few of the selected DSTs were primarily aimed at improving water quality. Rather they were farm (nutrient/pesticide) management tools and their inclusion in this review was based on the assumption that the efficient use of nitrogen and pesticides indirectly improves water quality; most participants reported using this type of DST. Only 3 of the shortlisted DSTs were explicitly developed to consider the impact of mitigation methods on water quality: FARMSCOPER (UK), Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides (NL) and Catchment Lake Modelling Network (NO). However, tools that support the efficient and smart application of nutrients or pesticides (e.g. by taking into account weather forecasts), can be said to provide indicative information on management measures for reducing losses to the water environment. Economic and financial impacts of mitigation methods were infrequently represented by the shortlisted DSTs.
»Representation of water quality, mitigation methods and economic and financial aspects in decision support tools
All the DSTs examined in this review operate within the context of the wider advisory frameworks in place in their respective countries, and this will clearly impact on the uptake of a DSTs and its usefulness/effectiveness. It may not always be straightfoward to transfer a DST from one country to another because the advisory framework are likely to be different, in addition to issues around language and requirements for country-specific data or calibration.
»National and international use of decision support tools and barriers to their uptake
Selected DSTs will be evaluated in the FAIRWAY case studies for their ability to assist in implementing mitigation methods and managing water quality.
|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.
|»R.K. Laursen et al. (2019) Evaluation of Decision Supports Tools. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 5.2 216 pp
In »Survey and review of existing decision support tools we conducted a comprehensive review and a survey which Decision Support Tools (DST) are currently used in the different case study sites. Out of 36 DST identified to be of higher relevance, 12 were selected for further investigation. The DSTs vary according to scale (field, farm, catchment, regional), pollutants (nutrients, pesticides) and integration of mitigation measures. A cross-country testing of DST revealed, if already existing tools could be used in other European sites or whether inspiration could be drawn from DST used in other case studies.
The FAIRWAY case study sites all face different challenges; therefore, the respective DST matching to scale, pollutant, etc. were tested accordingly.
»Selecting DSTs for evaluation
Results of the evaluations indicate that exchange of DSTs between countries is challenging due to various barriers to use (e.g. different legislation, input data requirements and regional differences in precipitation, soil types). Therefore, most countries already have comparable DSTs designed to address similar problems. During the evaluations, all case studies found inspiration and ideas from other countries’ DSTs which they would consider implementing in their own area. However, they preferred to adopt ideas and either enhance existing or develop new region-specific DSTs, rather than to attempt to modify a DST developed for another country.
For further details have a look at »DST evaluation results and discussion
A model DST that is acceptable to the majority of end users should fulfil most of the criteria summarised in Figure 1.
A DST that fulfils these criteria and can deliver a range of functions is more likely to be successful, as end users prefer to limit the number of DSTs that they need to use. Additionally, good advisory assistance is important. The DST is only as good as the input data, and therefore support and advice from well-educated and communicative, skilful advisors are highly valuable for the end user to make the right decisions.
In a next step a »Decision-support framework for advice, training and communication strategies will be developed to highlight the ways in which DSTs can be applied successfully to establish and improve awareness of diffuse pollution of vulnerable drinking water resources among farmers and other stakeholders.
|Berit Hasler, Fiona Nicholson, John Williams, Rachel Cassidy, Linda Tendler, Peter Lendertsee, Marije Hoogendoorn, Rikke Krogshave Laursen, Doan Nainngolan, Ingrid Nesheim
|»Hasler, B. et al. (2019) Assessment of costs and benefits for farmers, water companies and society from using Decision Support Tools. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 5.3 49 pp
There are many decision support tools (DSTs) that can support water management and related decisions at farm, catchment, national, and international levels by farmers, policy makers, waterworks and other stakeholders. The different types of DSTs belong to different “families” for example the farm level tools that are developed to support farmers in production decisions and the catchment level tools that are developed to assist and inform policymakers at different levels on the likely outcomes of projects and policy actions to protect water.
We start by summarising findings from the literature was used to define criteria for what makes a DST within these different domains effective and of economic relevance.
»Previous evaluations of decision support tools
»Criteria for assessing the costs and benefits of using decision support tools
Six farm level DSTs were analyised according to these criteria.
- Mark Online, Denmark
- Plant Protection Online, Denmark
- Düngeplanung, Germany (Lower Saxony)
- Environmental Yardstick, Netherlands
- MANNER-NPK, UK
- Farmscoper, UK
All these DSTs have a factor in common, that the total costs of using the tools are kept low and that this is essential for a tool to be effective. The individual cost related to the use of a DST cannot be quantified as it vary substantial depending on farm scale, management practice, user habits, etc. However it was concluded that the farm level tool can save money for farmers if inputs are reduced, but also that they are important in meeting the cross compliance requirements that are compulsory in all EU countries. The farm level DSTs are not designed to rise environmental awareness as it is of no direct economic return to the farmer.
»Decision support tools at farm level
Two catchment level DSTs
- TargetEconN, Denmark
- Farmscoper, UK
were chosen as examples of catchment scale tools that model cost-effective solutions, that can be used for policy advice and management decisions. The evaluation indicates that significant resources can be saved by using such tools to reveal cost-effective solutions and management practices. The explicit modelling and inclusion of spatial data on agricultural production in both models allows for the identification of mitigation methods that can help to target pollutant reductions whilst not reducing food production. The catchment level models are also capable of assessing the effects of assumptions on the cost-effective solutions, and can therefore be used to assess the uncertainties associated with wrong or limited information.
»Decision support tools at catchment and national levels
Finally, there are DSTs to assess the benefits of water quality protection. Two different approaches are presented, and they can be used for general and more spatially specific assessments and measurements of the value of protection.
- MAES: Mapping and Assessments of Ecosystem Services. This is an European level decision support system (DSS) developed by the EU Commission, JRC (Maes et al 2012). Examples from implementation of a similar ecosystem services assessment tool in the Danish case study area in FAIRWAY, called MAES-DK, are used for illustration, as well as a similar example from the UK (The UK National Ecosystem Assessment, UK NEA (Bateman et al., 2011)).
- Meta analyses (benefit transfer) of valuation studies of water quality improvements: Two examples were chosen for illustration, namely:
- An international groundwater valuation study applying meta-analysis (Brouwer and Neverre, 2018).
- A Danish meta-analysis based on valuation studies from the Nordic countries, valuing water quality improvements using the Water Framework Directive classification of ecological status. Structure of the deliverable
The benefits measured by these methods can be used to make cost-benefit analyses of protection or other policy scenarios and decisions.
»Decision support tools for assessments of benefits
|M. L. Madsen, R. K. Laursen, L.K. Thostrup, L. Tendler, J. R. Williams, I. Wright, P. Schipper, K. Verloop, G. Clements, M. Hoogendoorn, F. Nicholson, J. Brandt, D. Doody, L. Farrow, G. Velthof
|»Madsen, M. L. et al. (2021) Development of a decision support framework. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 5.4, 5.7 18 pp
Decision Support Tool Framework: https://www.dstframework.com/
The Decision Support Tool Framework is hosted on a separate server.
In this section of FAIRWAYiS we build on »Survey and review of existing decision support tools, »Evaluation of decision support tools and »Assessments of costs and benefits using decision support tools to develop a web-based framework that enables users to select decision support tools most suited to their needs.
»Aims, preparatory work and methodology
The Decision Support Framework catalogues and describes 30 decision support tools (DST) used in the FAIRWAY case studies for optimal nitrate and pesticide use. It is a a web-based, interactive user interface that allows the user to compare functionality and technical aspects of different DSTs. The framework also includes information sheets with links and contact details for key workers involved in their use and development.
»Structure of the Decision Support Framework
The Framework identifies differences in presentation and technical working between DSTs enabling the sharing of information to encourage development of existing and new DSTs. It allows trade-offs with other environmental issues to be taken advantage of. The web-based system can be maintained in the future by integrating improvements of existing tools and updating the database with new tools as they become available.
»Discussion, recommendations and conclusions
|Luke Farrow, Mark Browne, Erica Chisholm, Ida Hamill, Patrick Meier, Paul Armitage, Rachel Cassidy, Rikke Krogshave Laursen, Peter Schipper, Gerard Velthof and Donnacha Doody
|»Farrow, L. et al. (2021) Development of the SprayDay mobile app - assisting best practice amongst infrequent pesticide users. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 5.5, 47 pp
Pesticides are an important tool in modern agricultural practice, but it is recognised that their use can have significant negative ecological impacts and pose risks for human health if not removed from drinking water sources. Whilst there are technological solutions available to remove the majority of pesticides from drinking water, these approaches are expensive and may not always be effective. Consequently the use of professional pesticide products is strictly controlled, with usage limited to holders of, or those supervised by holders of, appropriate certification.
One challenge that is becoming increasingly apparent is that the infrequent use of pesticide products by many users’ means that adherence to best practice can be problematic. In addition the best source of information is not always clear, or easily accessible. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that pesticide usage is a practical process meaning that notes taken in training sessions are unlikely to be to hand when questions arise in the farmyard or the field. Modern tools such as mobile telephones and the internet provide a theoretical solution to this problem, but connectivity in rural areas, is often poor and many individual users still prefer a more traditional method for gaining information.
In this section of FAIRWAYiS we describe the development of SprayDay, a phone app that provides guidance to low-frequency users from both agricultural backgrounds and other business sectors (such as groundskeepers managing amenity spaces) on best practice in the application, disposal and environmental risks associated with the use of different pesticides for weed and pest control.
The work has been undertaken in three stages;
1. Market Research: Market research was carried out in two steps. A review of the currently available online resources showed that there were a small number of resources available that specialised in providing information on specific factors relating to pesticide usage, but none sought to act as a centralised hub for all issues. Further, provision tended to target more frequent users and those who have recently purchased new equipment. The second step was a series of structured interviews with 83 farmers who used professional pesticide products. The purpose of these interviews was to determine the specific mix of features that would increase the appeal of the app to potential users.
2. App Design and Development: Building on the outcomes of the market research, the app development team (which consisted of scientists and software developers) determined the most appropriate target audience for this app and then used a number of MoSCoW meetings (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have) meetings to determine the content of the app
A series of wire-frame visualisations were then developed and presented to stakeholders representing agricultural interests, civil servants, academics and professional training bodies from across the island of Ireland, Great Britain and Europe in order to gain their feedback on content and presentation.
»Mobile app development
Following a final MoSCoW meeting, the app was developed to operate under the Android mobile phone software platform, which holds approximately 72% of mobile phone operating system market share. The working prototype was developed following industry standard software development lifecycle processes in line with internal best practices and procedures and using the Xamarin Open-source mobile app platform for .NET. An object oriented approach to coding was taken where the different elements of the system were designed, coded and tested individually and then brought together to form the completed system. System testing was carried out using Android OS emulation software before the first round of user-acceptance testing. The App was named “Sprayday”.
3. User review and testing: The app was presented to 64 stakeholders from across the island of Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe. Individuals represented a range of interest groups, ranging from civil servants to agricultural advisory service employees and from water utility employees to farmers. Several participants who had participated in the initial market research survey were included in this group. Overall feedback received was positive with more than 94% of respondents stating that they believed that the app was suitable for the target user groups. A number of respondents made it clear that they would prefer to see a more richly featured app that would provide users with the ability to generate the documentation associated with pesticide application, as well as storeroom records, as they felt this would improve the appeal of the app to the community. However, other respondents took exactly the opposite view, indicating that they felt that a simple app would be more appealing to the target audience.
»User review of prototype app