Main authors: Berit Hasler, Fiona Nicholson, John Williams, Rachel Cassidy, Linda Tendler, Peter Lendertsee, Marije Hoogendoorn, Rikke Krogshave Laursen, Doan Nainngolan, Ingrid Nesheim
FAIRWAYiS Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »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


The following decision support tools for use at farm level were evaluated.

Contents table
1. Mark Online, Denmark 
2. Plant Protection Online, Denmark
3. Düngeplanung, Germany (Lower Saxony)
4. Environmental Yardstick, Netherlands
6. Farmscoper, UK
Summary and discussion of farm level DSTs

1. Mark Online, Denmark

Mark Online is the most widely used farm information management system in Denmark and covers all aspects of crop management including soil tillage and crop protection (Bligaard, 2014). The decision support tool is actively used by approximately 350 advisers and 2,500 farmers on 85% of all land in DK (2.2 million ha distributed on 25,000 farms). The first version of Mark Online was developed in ca.1991 by SEGES, Denmark. The current latest version was released in January 2017.

Mark Online is used by the farmers and advisors for fertilizer planning, optimization and documentation in Danish crop production. Mitigation is included by economic assessments of how to comply to national rules and regulations. In this way, Mark Online ensures that pesticides and nutrients are used according to legislation. Key data is obtained via field trials (Nicholson et al., 2018).

Direct costs for the farmers

  • User costs and fees related to the use of Mark Online: The purchase price for Mark Online is 1,350 Danish Kroner (DKK), which is approximately 181 EUR per year. The annual subscription fee differs depending on farm size, see Table 3.1. Software support is included in the annual subscription fee.

Table 1. Annual subscription fee for Mark Online differs with farm size.

Farm size (ha) 0 - 49 50 - 199 200 - 499 + 500
Annual subscription fee (DKK) (EUR in parenthesis) 1,650 (221) 2,650 (356) 3,675 (493) 950 (128)
  • Payment for advisory services: Mark Online is a complex all-inclusive decision support system, which means that advisory assistance is necessary for use in most cases. Therefore most farmers also seek advice from advisory services for fertilizer planning etc. The advisory work is usually paid for to the local advisors as an advisors package. The package price varies depending on farm size etc.
  • Time and costs of time: It is extremly individual how much time a farmer uses in Mark Online. Some farmers use the DST several hours a day, whereas others use it once a year. It depends on how much the farmer does and how much is left for the advisor to do. Additionally, it depends on the hectares, number of fields, number of crops etc. A large fertilizer plan may take days to a week to complete, whereas a small fertilizer plan may take only a few hours.
  • The direct effects on profits. Mark Online shows information on saved inputs (fertiliser and pesticides) with links to the pesticide database, if applicable.

2. Plant Protection Online, Denmark

Plant Protection Online was jointly developed by Aarhus University and SEGES. The development of Plant Protection Online was initiated after the launch of the first Danish Pesticide Action Plan in 1986, which required significant reductions in the application of pesticides. The first version was released in 1991 as PC-Plant Protection. In 2006 the latest version of Plant Protection Online was published.

Plant Protection Online is an online system applied by skilled farmers and advisors in Denmark, the Baltic countries and Poland for reduction of use of pesticides and ensuring that only legal pesticides are used. Plant Protection Online gives recommendations on whether to spray or not, dosage and spraying time in individual fields based on the result of field trials, individual field data and features of the active ingredients (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) (Nicholson et al., 2018).

Direct costs for the farmers

  • User costs and fees related to the use of the DST: The purchase price for Plant Protection Online is 1,350 Danish Kroner (DKK), which is approximately 181 EUR per year. The annual subscription fee is 1,250 DKK (168 EUR) per user per year. Software support is included in the annual subscription fee.
  • Payment for advice by advisory services: Often farmers do not use Plant Protection Online themselves. They pay an advisor for the information from Plant Protection Online. This advisory service is usually a part of a package price that varies depending on farm size etc.
  • Time and costs of time: Often the advisory companies use Plant Protection Online once a week. Based on the information from the DST a combined advice strategy is made and agreed on between the advisors. The advisors then communicate that information to the farmers.
  • The direct effects on profits: Plant Protection Online shows information on saved inputs by showing a percentage reduction compared to the maximum dose.

Benefits of using Plant Protection Online at farm level

  • Plant Protection Online reduces the use of pesticides and ensures that only legal pesticides are used. Information on measures to implement is not included in Plant Protection Online.

3. Düngeplanung, Lower Saxony, Germany

Düngeplanung is part of a software package of tools dealing with efficient nutrient management in Lower Saxony. The particular tool Düngeplanung was developed in 2014 for water protected areas in order to optimize allocation of nutrients on field-scale. It combines data on soil measures, crop rotation and fertilization. The tool’s output is a detailed fertilization plan which combines agronomically optimum amounts of fertilizers with environmental legislation.

Direct costs for the farmers

  • User costs and fees related to the use of the DST: The whole software package can be purchased by farmers and advisors. The software provides several IT-interfaces in a way that data from one application can by transferred and used in other applications, too. Direct costs for farmers are an onetime fee for buying the software package of 77 EUR and an annual maintenance fee of 10 EUR. Prior to buying the software, farmers usually want to gather experience with the software in order to find out whether they consider it to be useful. Often, the license stays with the advisor (so there is no software purchasing cost for the farmer) and the farmers pay the hours of advisory service, instead.
  • Payment for advice by advisory services: In addition, paying an advisor is indispensable especially in the learning phace of the application of Düngeplanung. Most farmers do not use the software themselves but make use of their advisors. The advisor’s hourly wage (e.g. for LWK (Chamber of Agriculture Lower Saxony, Germany) is 74 EUR. However, in the past years this fee has been subsidized by a programme called “Promoted advisory service”, financed by both EU and the agricultural ministry of the federal state of Lower Saxony. This subsidy covers 80% of the time spent by the advisor (hence the farmer has to pay about 15 EUR/hour). However, the total budget for this subsidy is limited and long-term funding is not secured.
  • Time and costs of time: Time spent (both by the advisor or the farmer) differs tremendously from farm to farm, depending on the number of fields, diversity in cropping and fertilizer use. Also management changes during the crop season which consequently require an updated fertilization plan take a lot of time. Furthermore, the quality of data delivered by the farmer is of crucial importance in respect to time consumption (e.g. some farmers just fill the data template while others report a lot of single information and estimates which have to be corrected retrospectively). Generally, time expenditure is highest in the first years, since soil data and additional information has to be entered. Average time spent to plan and to maintain Düngeplanung for a farm is about 8 hours for a year, however, depending on the individual farm and the intensity of advisory service, there is a huge variation (3-20 hours per farm per year).

Düngeplanung does not cause an increased risk of obtaining the target yield. However, since the fertilizer plan is usually designed in winter, prior to the vegetation period, it is of cause necessary to update it on a regular basis.

Indirect costs for the farmers

  • Indirect costs for the farmer refer to time spent to learn and manage the tool. Since many farmers do not apply the software themselves, costs are direct (payment of the advisor) rather than indirect. Time for learning to understand and use the tool cannot be quantified and depends very much on the individual user. Usually, a beginner starts with the basic features and step by step discovers additional functions of the tool. The Düngeplanung manual can help to some extent but in most cases it might be more effective to ask a trained user of Düngeplanung directly if problems occur.

Benefits of using Düngeplanung at farm level

  • Düngeplanung acts on the maxim that yields should be kept stable while reducing nutrient inputs as much as possible. It is impossible to report definite numbers on saved inputs since it can be very different from farm to farm. Generally, we estimate a reduction of 5-10% of nitrogen inputs due to field-specific planning of fertilization. However, reduced inputs bear the risk of an unsufficient availibility of nutrients during plant growth. (In particular, nutrient in organic fertilizers are sometimes not directly plant available since mineralization is crucially dependent on weather conditions). Hence Düngeplanung has to be updated several times during the growing period to account for this effect. In Düngeplanung it is also possible to compare different fertilizer scenarios with each other. Depending on the recent price of mineral and organic fertilizers it can help the farmer to identify the best choice of fertilizer from an economic point of view.
  • A direct economic effect of the use of Düngeplanung for the farmer cannot be generalized since it depends very much on individual farm management. In some cases there can be benefits in respect to saved costs for fertilizers (see above). In most cases farmers appreciate the fact that by following the instructions of Düngeplanung requirements of cross compliance are met. In Germany cross compliance requirements are implemented by different national laws (fertilisation law (DüG), fertilizing ordinance (DüV), fertilizing ordinance of the federal states and Act on Plants handling with Substances Hazardous to Waters (AwSV)). The ammendment of DüV in 2017 obliges farmers to document plant requirement of nutrients prior to fertilization. These plant nutrient requirements are based on legally defined values in DüV which are implemented in Düngeplanung. Furthermore it checks that the benchmark of 170 kg organic N/ha (in farm’s average) is not exceeded. Hence, Düngeplanung both helps farmers to fulfil requirement of documentation and makes sure fertilization legislation is met. Still, it has to be highlighted that Düngeplanung goes beyond cross compliance requirements since it not only document plants nutrient requirements but also plans how this requirement will be fulfilled (type of fertilizer, time of application, etc.).

Düngeplanung's ability to assess costs and benefits

  • The fact that many farmers make use of Düngeplanung already shows that farmer’s overall benefits by using the tool outweigh the costs. Due to the fact that fertilization legislation in Germany has been tightened recently, most farmer’s make use of the tool in order to make sure they meet current obligations. Also saved inputs are of clear benefit since they directly reflect on marginal return. Indirectly, reduced inputs also negatively affect emissions to the environment which is, however, not of direct economic benefit to the farmer. However, the overall uptake of the tool significantly depends on the subsidy payments (for respective advisory service) which keep direct costs for the farmer comparatively low.

4. Environmental Yardstick, Netherlands

The Environmental Yardstick was developed in 1991 by the Centre for Agriculture and Environment (Reus, 1991; Reus,1992; Reus and Pak, 1993). The Yardstick enables farmers to choose pesticides with the least harmful effect on the environment, and aims to quantify the impact of the use of pesticides crops grown at arable land and horticulture as well as from greenhouses. The Yardstick is used to assign environmental impact points for risk to aquatic organisms, risk of leaching to groundwater, and risk to soil organisms. The risk for natural enemies and pollinators is indicated on the Yardstick with an A, B or C. An A means that the pesticide fits within integrated cropping systems. B means that it doesnot always fit and C means that is not compatible with integrated crop protection. The tool therefore serves to monitor environmental performance of farming activities, but is also used to set standards for ecolabels and for information about sustainable agricultural products. The tool works at field level but results can be scaled up to regional or national levels. The tool is used as a policy tool to inform policy makers on the effect of collective changes in farmers’ pesticide use over years, based on information on pesticide used – and therefore information can be provided before changes are observable in the water bodies, including groundwater.

Direct costs for the farmers

  • User costs and fees related to the use of the Environmental Yardstick: The Environmental Yardstick is free for farmers in the form of a limited edition, using 3 pesticides at a time. Commercial (advisor) companies or projects use the full list of pesticides for a price of €2.250/year (excl. VAT). There are 15.000 agricultural users in farming, about a third of the total farmer population (Nicholsson et al, 2018. 5.1. Deliverable). Most users use the Environmental Yardstick indirectly, through pesticide registration programs or demands from their clients or environmental label.
  • Payment for advisory services: As the tool and information sheets are readily available, most farmers can use it without additional advice. When in doubt which alternative to choose, they may consult their farm advisors. Within projects, the farmers receive free advice on their environmental impact and the possible alternatives.
  • Time and costs of time: Advisors make use of the environmental impact sheets available in the tool, which are relatively quick to make and consult, i.e. the use is not time demanding for advisors. For farmers the free tool allows for the comparison of 3 pesticides at a time. This would take about 5-10 minutes per 3 pesticides, so total time depends on the number of pesticides in use. The information sheets (mostly available in Dutch) give direct overview of the scores per pesticide. We conclude that the use of the tool is not time-demanding for farmers.
  • The direct effects on profits: There is no direct information on saved inputs to the farmers from using the online tool, as their input is not saved. CLM has access to historical data of the farmers involved in projects where the tool is used. Through use in the project ‘Clean Water for Brabant’, environmental impact has been monitored since 2001. The farmers use the environmental impact sheets and get their individual scores after each growing season. Between 2011 and 2018, the difference between the 25% of farmers with lowest impact and 25% of farmers with highest impact has been recorded (Table 2). While not a direct consequence of using the environmental yardstick, it serves to show that lower environmental impact does not result in higher costs for the farmers.

Table 2 Environmental impat points (EIP) and pesticide costs (€) of potato farmers with 25% highest and 25% lowest impact points on groundwater and surface water. Averages between 2011 and 2018.

Environmental impact Environmental impact (EIP) Costs of pesticides (€)
25% lowest groundwater 317 603
25% highest groundwater 1799 843
25% lowest surfacewater 345 599
25% highest surfacewater 1283 823

A group of students compared three different spraying schemes against weeds in potato, sugar beet and maize, namely the ‘Clean Water scheme’, the scheme advised by independent advisers, and the sceme as advised by salespersons from de pesticide companies. The clean water approach did not only have the lowest environmental impact, it also had a lower cost compared to the other schemes. For the duration of the trial, there were no significant differences in weed presence in the plots.

The two examples above show that reducing environmental impact through the Environmental Yardstick can result in pesticide cost reduction for the farmer. Also, in practice there are no yield losses, as farmers and their advisors base their choice of pesticides on effectiveness on the target organism.

Indirect costs for the farmers

  • The indirect costs for the farmers include transaction costs, e.g. costs of using and learning to understand and use the Yardstick.

Benefits of using Environmental Yardstick at farm level

  • The benefits of using the tools for the farmers is the ability to evaluate the environmental effects. We conclude that the farmer is not able to evaluate if changes in pesticide use have any effects on the costs, and not either whether the changes in pesticide use affects the risks. But Yardstick provides information to assess the environmental risk, which is the purpose of the tool.
  • From a test of Environmental Yardstick (done by researchers from University of Lincoln »Survey and review of existing decision support tools) on farmers and agronomists in UK, it was concluded that 70% of the farmers participating in the survey would consider using this tool. Among the reasons for their appreciation of the tool was that it was considered that the tool was easily accessible and easy to use, in an app for smart phone or iPad, meaning that it is not time consuming to use. Concrete information about time was not provided, however. Benefits from advice for implementation of abatement measure to ensure cross-compliance, according to the CAP and national regulations. The Yardstick only provide information on the environmental impact of the pesticide, and no advice is given on the choices.

Environmental Yardstick’s ability to assess costs and benefits

  • The Yardstick is free for farmers as long as they test only 3 pesticides at a time, and about 15.000 farmers use the tool. This is 36% of the farm population. The tool is developed to enable assessment of environmental effects and not economic. It provides information to farmes so that they are able to choose consciously and measure the progress they make towards a more environmentally sound crop protection. We conclude that the tool is not able to give advise on costs and benefits.


MANNER (MANure Nutrient Evaluation Routine) was developed by ADAS with funding from the UK government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and was first launched in August 2000. It was originally developed to predict crop available nitrogen (N) supply following farm manure (and other organic material) applications to land, taking into account manure N analysis, ammonia volatilization and nitrate leaching losses, and the mineralization of organic N. A new version of the software (MANNER-NPK) was developed to enhance the N loss and crop available N supply predictions by utilizing more recent scientific information. In response to user and stakeholder feedback, the software functionality was also extended to include predictions of phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulphur (S) and magnesium (Mg) supply to crops, and to enable users to view the results in terms of both the fertilizer replacement value (kg/ha) and the economic value (£/ha) of manure applications.

The tool operates at the individual field level and is used by farmers and advisors, often as part of a nutrient/manure management advice package. The MANNER-NPK software is also incorporated within PLANET (Planning Land Applications of Nutrients for Efficiency and the environmenT), which is a nutrient management DST used by farmers and advisers for field level nutrient planning, and for assessing and demonstrating compliance with Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) rules.

MANNER-NPK can also be used as a policy tool to demonstrate the effect of different manure application timings and methods on losses of nitrate, ammonia and nitrous oxide. For example, it has been used to model the impacts on N loss of introducing the closed period for spreading high N available manure (cattle slurry, pig slurry, broiler litter and layer litter) in England and Wales.

Direct costs for the farmers

  • User costs and fees related to the use of MANNER-NPK: MANNER-NPK and PLANET are free for both farmers and advisors to use; the software is also freely available to other software developers.
  • Payment for advisory services: MANNER-NPK is often used as part of a nutrient/manure management advisory package.
  • Time and costs of time: The typical time to create a nutrient management plan is 40 hours (for a farm of 24-40 ESU (European Size Unit), although this can range from 6 hours for small farms up to 70 hours for the largest farms. It is difficult to estimate how much of this time is required for use of the DST per se, however it would probably take an experienced used about 10 minutes per field to run MANNER-NPK, assuming all the required input data was to hand. If a farmers’ time is costed at £20 per hour, then the cost of using MANNER-NPK would be about £3.30 (€2.80) per field.
  • Direct effects on profits: Information on the fertiliser value (N, P and K) of each manure application is shown in kg/ha and £ sterling. This tells the farmer the potential savings in the amount of mineral fertiliser that would need to be used depending on the manure application timing and method. If this information is correctly acted on, then a farmer (who is not already accounting for the nutrients in manure applications) could expect to benefit from reduced spending on mineral fertilizer without experiencing any loss of yield i.e. increased profitability.

Indirect costs for the farmers

  • The indirect costs for the farmers include the costs of learning to understand and use MANNER-NPK. The DST was specifically designed to be easy to understand and use, and comprehensive user information and help is available. It is therefore expected that no more than 1-2 hours would be required before a farmer could start to use it effectively. Other indirect costs could include the cost of the laboratory analysis of manure samples for their dry matter and nutrient content (typically about £100/€85), if this is not already being done. However, in the absence of farm-specific manure analyses, the farmer can use the default values provided as part of the DST.
  • One consequence of using the DST could be that a farmer is advised to apply high readily-available N manures (i.e. slurry and poultry manure) in spring rather than autumn, to reduce the risk of overwinter nitrate leaching losses and comply with NVZ rules. This may mean that more slurry storage is required which would obviously result in a large cost to the farmer that could not be recovered in other ways e.g. increased yields or savings in mineral fertilizer use. The benefits of DST use in this case are at the societal level rather than for the individual farmer who will experience it as a cost.

Benefits of using MANNER-NPK at farm level

  • The benefits of using the tools for the farmers include the ability to evaluate the environmental effects of manure application timings and methods. Mitigation measures are not directly represented by MANNER-NPK, but N losses via leaching are shown. This information can be used to demonstrate to a farmer how changing the timing or method of manure application could affect N losses to water (and hence water quality). If farmers have a better understanding of the factors affecting N losses to water (and air), then any subsequent changes they make to the timing and method of manure application could help reduce the environmental risk.
  • MANNER-NPK was tested at Case Study no. 11 in Baixo Mondego (PT). It was concluded that a DST with similar functionality would be of benefit to farmers in the case study area, where no equivalent software is available at present for producing nutrient management plans. Because it was developed for use in the UK, country-specific data and calibration would be required before MANNER-NPK could be used in other countries (Laursen et al., 2019). Nevertheless, clear benefits to users were identified by stakeholders who supported the provision of a similar DST in the case study area.
  • Benefits from advice for implementation of abatement measure to ensure cross-compliance, according to the CAP and national regulations. MANNER-NPK includes a facility whereby it shows a ‘warning message’ in situations where a planned manure application will not comply with NVZ Action Programme rules. The DST also provides more information about which rule(s) would be broken, thereby allowing the farmer to adjust the quantity of manure to be applied and/or the application timing in order to ensure compliance.

MANNER-NPK’s ability to assess costs and benefits

  • MANNNER-NPK (and PLANET) are provided free for farmers to use. There are currently over 18,000 registered users of PLANET and 4,600 registered users of MANNER-NPK. The main benefit is that MANNNER-NPK allows the farmer to account for the nutrient content of their manures (and their economic value) and to make savings in mineral fertilizer use. It also promotes a better understanding of how the timing and method of a manure application can influence N losses to the environment (including via nitrate leaching to watercourses), reducing the risk of pollution incidents and aiding compliance with NVZ regulations.

6. Farmscoper, UK

The Farmscoper DST can be used to assess diffuse agricultural pollutant loads at farm, catchment and national scale and quantify the impacts of farm mitigation methods on these pollutants. It was developed by ADAS for England and Wales with funding from the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and subsequently from the national Environment Agency.

The Farmscoper DST is a series of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets with macro-driven databases that has been designed to allow the generation and customisation of individual farm systems, based on on-farm data or using available census data on livestock, cropping and manure management.

Outputs to water and air are modelled for a range of atmospheric and waterborne contaminants including nutrients, pesticides and sediments. Predictions are based on well-established models which have been used in the UK, including NEAP-N for nitrate (Anthony et al., 1996) and PSYCHIC Davison et al., 2008; Strömqvist et al., 2008) for phosphorus and sediment; MACRO Tool (Jarvis, 1995) and SWAT for pesticides. Contaminant losses are apportioned across source (e.g. dairy, beef, arable products, grass products), pathway (e.g. runoff, preferential flow, leaching) and timescale (short to long term) within the model. Soil types in the model are represented based on soil permeability and classified based on the requirement for artificial sub-surface drainage (e.g. pipe drains). Three drainage classes are available and used as the basis for generating contaminant export coefficients for farming systems on different soils. Three workbooks in the model (Evaluate, Prioritise and Cost) are used to estimate the environmental impact and cost-effectiveness of one or more mitigation methods, from a library of over 100 options, including those in the DEFRA Mitigation Method Guide which farmers have access to. Model evaluation can be undertaken at farm level, or upscaled to catchment or national level. Whilst it is generally used as a tool to inform water quality management strategies and other policy issues (see »Decision support tools at catchment and national levels), it can also be used by individual farmer (providing they have appropriate training, and advice and guidance). Here we consider Farmscoper use at the farm level.

Direct costs for the farmers

  • Farmscoper is free to users and can be downloaded from the ADAS website ( There are a range of video tutorials to guide users through setting up a farm model and baseline pollutant losses, using it to identify and assess mitigation measures and work out the cost of the selected mitigation measures on-farm.
  • Farmscoper can be used both by planners and farmers. When used by farmers the user can set up a “Farm sheet” which allows customisation of farm, crop, livestock and nutrient management; this is straightforward for anyone who has previously done a farm nutrient plan. Most farmers would be capable of this within an hour providing data on crops, land area and management are available. This would provide them with a baseline model covering the expected losses of pollutants to water and air for their farm. For evaluation of mitigation options and running different scenarios the time taken would depend on the options and scenarios being assessed. It is not possible to estimate this.

Indirect costs for farmers

  • For farmers the tool can be time-consuming to use, but it is feasible. We estimate that it would take 3-4 days of familiarisation for a user with average skills to be adept in using Farmscoper. If an advisor was to produce a model for a farmer then, providing they were trained, it might take 5-6 hours to produce the results for a single farm. It is very user-friendly and the online advice and help is good. A basic user could set up their farm as a baseline in approximately 1-2 hours.

Economic costs and the cost-effectiveness of mitigation measures

  • It is possible to estimate the effects on the economic outputs in terms of a decrease or increase in yields, changes in inputs, time spent and the increased or decreased uncertainty on the outcomes. All the costs of activities (e.g. for dairy the value of milk produced for a herd of a set size) and mitigation measures (e.g. the price of a buffer strip) are included in the model (updated to 2015 but allowing the user to alter if needed). The baseline can be set up at the farm level or catchment level.
  • Farmscoper allows the user to set a prior implementation level for mitigation measures for the farm against which the impact of the planned measures can be evaluated. It provides both the environmental impacts and the cost implications for the farms of single and sets of mitigation measures. It is possible to select measures based on their effect on particular pollutants (e.g. pesticides or nitrate) and optimise these automatically within the tool. The output from such an optimisation process is a graph of the costs plotted against the % reduction in a specific pollutant, allowing the user to identify the point at which cost-benefits are maximised for their farm. Reporting features provide tabulated and graphical outputs to facilitate comparison of options. An example of how Farmscoper can be used to assess the costs and benefits of implementing mitigation measures for a typical UK lowland grazing farm demonstrates the evaluation of mitigation options within Farmscoper an example of a 101 hectare Lowland Grazing farm type is provided. This livestock farm (beef and sheep, Table 3) is based on the average crop types and areas for that farm type in the 2015 June Agricultural Survey for England and Wales. A free draining soil type and rainfall range of 900-1200 mm per annum was selected. The farm has a stocking density of 89 kg N/ha with 40% of fields next to watercourses and 10% of the area classed as organic soils. In the initial model cattle have access to watercourses during grazing and when moving between fields and the year. Details of land use, nutrient and pesticide use are provided in Table 4. Unit cost data for the model were set at the average for the 2011-15 period, based on a broad range of sources including dairy and meat processors, fertiliser companies, contractors, power, machinery and water companies. For each mitigation method the total upfront capital and annual variable, fixed, output and capital costs for 100% implementation were given alongside the environmental losses to air and water.

Table 3: Livestock numbers on the exemplar Lowland Grazing farm.

Bulls ( 2 years + ) 1
Beef Cows and Heifers 27
Beef Heifers in Calf ( 2 years + ) 2
Beef Heifers in Calf ( < 2 years ) 1
Other Cattle ( 2 years + ) 14
Other Cattle ( 1 - 2 years ) 37
Other Cattle ( < 1 year) & Calves 39
Sheep 184
Lambs ( < 1 year) 170

 Table 4: Farm cropping, nutrient management and plant protection products (PPP) use on the exemplar Lowland Grazing farm.

Cropping Area (ha) Fertiliser applied Manure Pesticides/Plant Protection Products
    N (kg/ha) P2O5 (kg/ha) FYM (%) Dirty Water (%) Manure Total N (kg/ha) Manure Total P (kg/ha) Fungicide (%PPP) Herbicide (%PPP) Insecticide (%PPP) Growth Regulator (%PPP) Molluscicide (%PPP)
Permanent Pasture 75.0 47 14 41 100 12.7 2.8 0 100 0 0
Rotational grazing  16.0  90  25  32  0 44.5 10.0 0 100 0 0 0
Rough Grazing 4.0             0 100 0 0 0
Winter Barley 4.0 116 48 18 0.0 100.1 22.5 35 35 15 15 1
Spring Barley 1.0 95 37 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 40 54 3 3 0
Maize 1.0 20 19 9 0.0 200.3 45.1 0 100 0 0 0

The benefits of using Farmscoper at farm level

  • The power to evaluate single and multiple mitigation measures and get a direct tabulated and graphical output showing the financial cost/gains and the environmental costs/gains is the main benefit of the DST and something farmers would appreciate. Some indicators as to compliance are also provided in the model. For example, if stocking rates exceed the limit for N based on land area farmed then the exceedance is flagged with a warning to the user.

Evaluation of Farmscopers ability to assess costs and benefits

  • Farmscoper provides an assessment of diffuse agricultural pollutant loads at farm-scale and allows the impacts of farm mitigation methods on these pollutants to be quantified. Over 100 mitigation options, typical for English and Welsh farms, are available for selection and their performance can be assessed based on the specifications of the farm and farm management input as a baseline. Both economic and environmental costs/benefits are assessed simultaneously and outputs are provided in tabular and graphical formats. The cost/benefits of different scenarios can be assessed by a user and optimised to their specific requirements in terms of the pollutant of interest. It provides a strong basis for on-farm decision making. Although the exact number of users is not known, the Farmscoper webpage on the ADAS website from which the tool can be downloaded has had over 3,000 unique page views since it was created in 2012.

Summary and discussion of farm level DSTs

A summary of the evaluation of the different farm level DSTs is shown in Table 5, based on a qualitative assessment of their relative costs and benefits, drawing on the expertise of the project team and experience from the FAIRWAY case studies. The criteria used for the comparison are elaborated in »Criteria for assessing the costs and benefits of using decision support tools.

Table 5. Synopsis of costs and benefits of farm level DSTs

    DK   GE NL UK UK
    Mark Online Plant Protection Online Düngeplanung Environmental Yardstick MANNER-NPK Farm-scoper
Direct costs Purchasing fee 181 EUR 181 EUR 74 EUR 0 EUR 0 EUR 0 EUR
  Maintenance fee 220-500 EUR 168 EUR 10 EUR 0 EUR 0 EUR 0 EUR
  Advisory service - - ++ - - ++
  Time spent -/++ - -/++ - - ++
Benefits Saved inputs +/++ +/++ +/++ -/+ ++ +
  Cross compliance fulfilment ++ ++ ++ -/+ + ++
  Environmental awareness ++ ++ -/+ ++ + ++
  Public recognition     -/+   ? ?
+ means high, - means low

Table 5 shows that there are significant differences between the farm level DSTs we have assessed. None of the tools have a positive score on all criteria.

The experiences from the assessment of the farm level DST’s can be summarized in these points: All of the investigated DSTs have a significant relevance in practice.

  1. They all have in common that total costs are kept on a low level. This is realized in two ways:
    Option 1: Tools are free and very easy to handle (Environmental Yardstick or Manner-NPK) which encourages farmers to use the tool themselves.
    Option 2: The tools are quite complex and require the assistance of an advisor (Mark Online, Plant Protection Online, Düngeplanung). The advisory time is either paid for as part of the general advice from the advisory company (Mark Online, Plant Protection Online) or the advisory time is subsidized (Düngeplanung).
  2. Tools have to be in line with agricultural and environmental legislation (e.g. cross compliance (CC) and legislation on national or regional level.). The most important benefit for farmers is the security that by following the tool’s instructions they fulfill CC. The second ranked economic benefit is savings on inputs, reducing waste and the potential for losses to air or water, which closely correspond to environmental awareness. Environmental awareness is, however, of no direct economic return to the farmer.
  3. Generally: Variation is substantial and individual costs and benefits always depend on farm scale, mangement practice, user habits, etc.
  4. Public recognition cannot be achieved by any of the DST.


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