Main authors: 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
FAIRWAYiS Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Madsen, M. L. et al. (2021) Development of a decision support framework. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 5.4 18 pp


The Decision Support Framework is hosted at CLM and is based on 30 DSTs divided into two sections concerning nutrient management and pesticide management.

fairway square w50 Decision Support Framework:

Contents table
1. Benefits of the Decision Tool Framework
2. Trade-offs with other environmental issues
3. Recommendations
4. Concluding comments

1. Benefits of the Decision Tool Framework

Testing of DSTs in »Evaluation of decision support tools identified differences between countries concerning legislation and between national constraining factors in both nutrient management and pesticide management. The testing also showed that the developers of tools could learn and enhance DSTs by comparing the functionality and technicality of tools used in different EU countries. Farmers expressed interest in adding functionalities of other tools to the existing tools that they already use but were less interested in more (new) tools. The DST Framework provides an instant access to compare the functionality of tools, and to find an appropriate contact person who can provide more details on the specification and use of each tool. The target groups for each tool are most often embedded in national context but the DST Framework makes it easy to find new parallel DSTs in other countries, and to find inspiration to improve the DSTs, potentially in cooperation across borders.

Furthermore, the DST Framework provides the opportunity to add new and additional existing DSTs to the framework like the FaST tool developed by the EC, which ensures a dynamic platform that can be maintained in the future. This will help demonstrate the positive contribution that DSTs have on supporting management practices that reduce nitrate and pesticide losses to drinking water from agricultural systems. From an overall perspective the criteria for DSTs, namely accessibility, user-friendliness, functionality and quality of output  are all criteria that can be applied to the DST Framework as well (»Criteria for assessing the costs and benefits of using decision support tools). Some of the recommendations later in this report reflect possible improvements for the DST framework seen from the perspective of these criteria.

2. Trade-offs with other environmental issues

DSTs typically have specific focus and the information provided to control nitrate and pesticide losses may have positive or negative impacts on other pollutant pathways. Some possible benefits and trade-offs of management practices that reduce nitrate and pesticide losses include:

  • Reduced tillage (as a measure to reduce nitrate leaching) might result in higher weed pressure and an increased use of pesticides and vice versa.
  • Cover crops are very effective at reducing nitrate leaching but if they do not die over winter, it may be necessary to apply herbicides to clear the ground before establishment of the following cash crop.
  • Reduced dosages of pesticides and frequent repetition of limited active ingredients may lead to resistance in diseases and pests. In time this may increase the amount of pesticides applied and encourage the use of more effective (but maybe more toxic) pesticides.
  • Increasing nutrient use efficiency typically encourages the use of manufactured instead of organic fertilizers since manufactured N-fertilizers can be applied more targeted. However, the sustainable use of organic fertilizers reduces the need for manufactured fertilizer applications to meet optimum crop requirements, increases (soil) biodiversity and reduces consumption of oil and gas (which is used to synthesize mineral N fertilizers)
  • The use of DSTs often requires additional time – which may restrict use on farms or require employing a farm advisor. The additional cost associated with using the tool and interpreting the results may be offset by reductions in fertilizer and pesticide use.
  • Costs and practicalities associated with precision farming techniques may restrict their use to larger farms.
  • It is important to consider the impacts of practices that reduce water pollution losses to air (MANNER-NPK includes ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions).

The trade-offs reflect the complexity of the impacts that decisions made by farmers and policy makers on nutrient and pesticide management have on diffuse pollution from agricultural systems. DSTs play an important role in encouraging good farm practice and informing policies to achive the best outcome for reducing nitrate and pesticide losses to water.

3. Recommendations

The Decision Support Framework can be used to select DSTs for optimal nitrogen and pesticide use.

The DSTs in the framework cannot necessarily be applied across all countries due to differences in national legislations, but the framework makes it easy to get a rapid overview of DSTs and to share knowledge of DSTs between countries. The framework provides a good overview of how DSTs in other countries work and can help to harmonise advice for farmers to optimise pest and nutrient management. The framework can be used to inspire developers to add useful parts / functionalities into existing tools.

Recommendations for future:

  • Link FAIRWAY with DG Agri and the FaST tool.
  • Connect to the From Fork to Farm strategy of the European Commission: ( with ambitious targets of nutrient and pesticide reduction (DSTs are needed to reach these targets).
  • Include potential trade-offs in development and use of DSTs.
  • Add new tools and updates of already included tools
  • Keep framework alive after FAIRWAY
  • Establish procedure and criteria for adopting and excluding DSTs in the framework.

As the demands of policy and environmental regulations change and the availability and access to data increases, it is likely that DSTs will become more popular in the future. Maintaining the framework after the end of the project will be useful to help future development of DSTs.

4. Concluding comments

In this section of FAIRWAYiS we have described a Decision Support Framework that integrates the Decision Support Tools from the FAIRWAY case studies. Following a thorough consideration of possibilities, a Decision Support Framework was developed and tested. The DSTs included in the framework were a mixture of farm level tools aiming to improve nutrient and/or pesticide management, and catchment/regional level DSTs aiming to assess risk and cost-effectiveness in the field of nutrient and pesticide measures. The DSTs were identified and tested in other FAIRWAY research activities. The selected DSTs were updated and checked by case study partners before being included into the framework. The user-friendly web-based, interactive DST Framework allows users to compare DSTs and share knowledge that can facilitate the development of existing and new DSTs. The framework can be maintained in the future and serve as a platform for comparison of and inspiration for DSTs in the future.


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see

» References


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