|Main authors:||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|
|Source document:||»Nicholson, F.A. et al. (2018) Survey and Review of Decision Supports Tools. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 5.1 166 pp|
The term decision support tool (and its synonyms) when entered into a search engine returns a very large number of 'hits'. This is because it can be applied to a wide range of tools encompassing paper-based guidelines, bespoke software and phone apps used by farmers, as well as complex sets of mathematical models intended for modelling and research purposes. All can justifiably claim to aid decision making, albeit for different sets of end users.
We found that the scientific literature searches returned significantly different numbers of ‘hits’ depending on the intended primary users: papers on DSTs developed for modelling and research purposes have been actively published, whilst only a limited number of papers on tools used by farmers and advisors were found in peer-reviewed journals. By their very nature these tend to be more practical tools intended for routine farm use. They may be based on sound scientific principles, but scientific publications may not necessarily be their main focus. Information on this type of DST is more likely to be made available by the developers or funders (e.g. national government, extension service; fertliser/pesticide manufacturers) in the form of user guides or other web-based information, and is often only available in the local language. Hence it was extremely valuable to have access to the information supplied by the project participants about the DSTs most widely used in their countries, as these included farm-based tools not captured by the literature searches.
Table 1 shows the short list of DSTs selected by the project participants for further consideration and potential practical evaluation in the Case Studies. The list includes DSTs focussing on:
- single or multiple nutrients
- both nutrients and pesticides
Note that no DSTs were selected from Portugal as all were paper-based systems available only in Portuguese.
For each of the shortlisted DSTs, a 3 page information sheet was produced describing their key aspects and capabilities including:
- the number and type of users;
- their suitability for use across multiple member states;
- the level of complexity;
- the ability to meet the needs of actors in the MAP (see »Evaluation of the decision support and information tools and measures)
Table 1. Short list of DSTs for further consideration.
|No.||Country||DST name||Information sheet||Nutrient tool||Pesticide tool|
|5||DK||Plant Protection Online||Y|
|11||IE||Teagasc Nutrient Management Planner Online||Y|
|18||NL||Nitrogen Dynamics in Crop Rotations in Ecological Agriculture||Y|
|19||NL||Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides||Y||Y||Y|
|21||NO||Catchment Lake Modelling Network||Y||Y||Y|
|25||SI||Smernice za strokovno gnojenje||Y|
|26||SI||OECD-EUROSTAT N Balance Analysis||Y||Y|
|28||SI||State network of groundwater monitoring points||Y||Y||Y|
|32||UK||Check it Out||Y|
|Key: Primary users/scale of DST|
|Farmers or advisors/field or farm scale (mostly farm nutrient/pesticide management tools)|
|Water quality manager or policy maker/catchment scale|
|Modellers or researchers|
The complexity and competetiveness of the pesticide market can mean that chemical companies will develop product-specific DSTs and will only make these available to users of their product(s); these DSTs are unlikely to appear in the scientific literature and there is limited publically available information about them. More generally available pesticide management tools are fewer in number and have usually been developed by academics (e.g. Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides, NL; FarmHedge, IR) and they tend to cover a wider range of plant protection products. For example, the Environmental Yardstick for Pesticides offers comparison of 3 crop protection products for free and comparison of an ‘unlimited’ number on purchase of a subscription.
A number of the nutrient management DSTs identified in this report was also commerical software which is available only at a charge to the end user (e.g. Mark Online, Plant Protection Online, DK). In some cases, these DSTs have been developed by or in conjunction with academic institutions (e.g. NDICEA, NL); in others, the details of DST development, validation and testing are commercially sensitive and are not publically available. In the UK, the computer code for nutrient management DSTs such as PLANET (Gibbons et al., 2005) and MANNER (Nicholson et al., 2013), which were developed using public funding from Defra, has now been made freely available and is incorporated with widely-used commerical software tools for farmers such as Gatekeeper and Greenlight Grower Management; these DSTs also use information published in a paper form as The Fertiliser Manual (RB209) (Defra, 2010).
There are a few DSTs available which cover both nutrients and pesticides (Mark Online and Dyrkningsvejledninger, DK; Bodemconditiescore, NL and Gatekeeper and Greenlight Grower in UK). 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), whilst Dyrkningsvejledninger consists of manuals for growing different crops which provide information on Good Agricultural Practice and crop protection. In the UK, widely used farm advice tools such as Gatekeeper and Greenlight Grower Management also include modules for nutrient and pesticide planning and management, so that farmers only need to purchase a single software package to cover all their requirements.
Some of the DSTs were either meteorological information services (Agro-meteorological service, NO) providing information and advice on when weather conditions are likely to be suitable for pesticide application (and other agricultural operations), or the DST included access to meteorological information (e.g. Plant Protection Online, DK), often via a phone app interface (e.g. FarmHedge, IE) making them suitable for farmers to use in the field.
Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see