|Main authors:||Luke Farrow, Mark Browne, Erica Chisholm, Ida Hamill, Patrick Meier, Paul Armitage, Rachel Cassidy, Rikke Krogshave Laursen, Peter Schipper, Gerard Velthof and Donnacha Doody|
|Source document:||»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|
|1. Resources for pesticide users|
|2. Background context - Northern Ireland|
|3. Market research|
|4. Market research results|
|[Note: The Appendix referred to below is included in the »full report]|
1. Resources for pesticide users
Pesticides are widely used in modern agriculture to control the distribution and density of pest organisms in crops. However they also pose a significant environmental risk with a proportion of the applied pesticides migrating into surface or ground water bodies (Sandin et al. 2018) where they can have negative impacts on both ecology (Mensah et al. 2015, Morrissey et al. 2015) and drinking water (Pretty et al. 2000, Benner et al. 2013). The proportion of applied pesticide that is lost to water may be influenced by a variety of user practices and biophysical environmental characteristics and so many countries now have strict rules and regulations to control both the purchase and use of pesticides in a professional setting. For example, the EU requires, through the Sustainable Use Directive (European Comission 2009), that individuals wishing to purchase or use professional pesticide products have attained a specified level of training, or are supervised by someone with that training. Professional users are expected to be familiar with a number of considerations, including the weather and soil conditions that would permit use of pesticides, the correct way to calibrate spray equipment and calculate dilution ratios, as well as record keeping, storage and disposal requirements.
There are currently a small number of online resources available to professional pesticide users that refresh their technical knowledge (e.g. the British Crop Protection Council (UK) - https://www.bcpc.org/, Landwirtshaftskammer Neidersachsen (Lower Saxony, Germany) - https://www.lwk-niedersachsen.de/, SEGES (Denmark) - https://www.landbrugsinfo.dk/) or that will provide weather forecasts (e.g. Meteorological Office (UK) - https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/, Met Eireann (Ireland) - https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/ or Meteorologisk Institutt (Norway) - https://www.yr.no/en). Alternatively users may use the WaterAware mobile app (http://www.adama.com/uk/en/wateraware/) which combines weather forecasts with soil moisture deficit forecasts in order to predict the risk of selected pesticides migrating through the soil. Dilution calculations can be gained online from Ohio State University (https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/fabe-530 or in mobile apps such as “Calibrate my sprayer (https://www.farms.com/agriculture-apps/spraying/calibrate-my-sprayer) or “Mix my Sprayer” (https://www.farms.com/agriculture-apps/spraying/mix-my-sprayer) from Clemson University. Owners of recently manufactured Hardy sprayers may also visit the company website (https://hardi-international.com/about-hardi/media/myhardi) for a range of product support.
Overall these resources are fragmented, mostly available solely online and not optimised for access in rural areas where internet and mobile signal availability may be poor. As such the aim of this task within the FAIRWAY project was to develop a mobile telephone app that would act as a pocket-sized source of information for infrequent (1 – 2 times per year) professional pesticide users. An electronic approach was favoured as smartphones are widespread in society and allow the information provided to be kept current with little effort expended on the part of the user.
Other studies in FAIRWAY (»Survey and review of existing decision support tools) have highlighted that many Decision Support Tools do not work well in countries other than the one(s) for which they were initially designed, it was necessary to select a jurisdiction for the initial development. Next we explore why Northern Ireland was selected.
2. Background context - Northern Ireland
Traditionally the potential of grassland-applied herbicides to pollute waterbodies has been considered to be low, relative to the threats associated with nutrients (Hooda et al. 2000, Richards K.G. et al. 2009) as the variety and masses of pesticides used are relatively small (e.g. (Lavery et al. 2018, Lavery et al. 2019), but awareness is now growing in countries such as Northern Ireland (Morton et al. 2021) where 79% of agricultural land area is dedicated to livestock and grassland (DAERA 2020). In 2017, for example, it was calculated that 45.1 tonnes of MCPA (2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid) were applied to 33,573 ha of Northern Irish grassland and fodder crops (Lavery et al. 2018).
Grassland farmers use MCPA for the control of broadleaf species including common rush (Juncus effusus) and dock (Rumex obtusifolius). In silage crops and fields for intensive grazing these plants are undesirable because they are of low nutritional value, and outcompete the grass species, whilst in extensively grazed fields with lower grass quality, the extent to which these weeds are present is used as a measure of the extent to which the field is under active agricultural management, and thus the area of land that is eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme. MCPA sorbs weakly to the organic matter in soil, and is moderately persistent in the environment (Morton et al. 2020) which means, when applied to parts of the landscape that are hydrologically connected to the surface water network, the herbicide may be flushed into surface waterbodies. In one year of a long-term study it was found that MCPA concentrations exceeded the 0.1 µg/L threshold set within the Drinking Water Directive (European Commission 1998) for potable water in 25% of samples and thus would require significant treatment prior to supply (Morton et al. 2021). Across the island of Ireland MCPA has been flagged as a concern for drinking water supply with elevated concentrations detected in many surface water source catchments.
This is a significant challenge for water utilities, such as Northern Ireland Water and Irish Water and adds cost to the water treatment process. There are a number of technological approaches available for treatment, such as passing water through granular activated carbon or exposure of the water to chemical oxidation processes (Ahmed et al. 2017)), but these fail to address the larger problem of poor surface water quality. Clearly a better approach would be to prevent pesticides entering water courses in the first place and application at the right levels, in the right place and at the right time is a crucial step towards mitigating the risk of such losses. This requires efforts to raise farmers’ awareness of these issues and their role in both the problem and solutions through projects such as Source to Tap (https://www.sourcetotap.eu/) as well as making resources more freely and easily available that will assist pesticide users to adopt best practice.
3. Market research
In modern farming practice both the frequency with which pesticides are used, and the technical sophistication of application equipment can vary widely as a result of a number of personal and business factors. It is generally accepted that grassland-dominated farming systems tend to use smaller quantities of pesticides per annum, and to utilise less advanced application machinery. The first step in the development of the app was to gather some basic information about the farmers, and to gain their input on what app features and functions would best suit Northern Irish farms. The survey explored what information farmers would be most interested in seeing in a mobile app, and what barriers they would perceive as preventing their engagement with such a product.
The questionnaire was developed through engagement with experts in pesticides use and farming in Northern Ireland with the aim of developing a broad understanding of the farming community’s opinions of pesticide regulations, mobile phones and decision support tools. This understanding allowed for the development of a long-list of potential questions. A prototype questionnaire was developed that was suitable for use and this was tested in face-to-face conversations with AFBI colleagues. Following a number of iterations of the questionnaire, a small number of farmers known to AFBI were approached and asked to first complete the questionnaire and then comment on all aspects of the experience. Of particular concern was whether the respondents felt the questions were understandable, phrased in a balanced manner and permitted them to share their opinions fully. Reviews received were very positive and changes made to the questionnaire were minor. A copy of the questionnaire used can be found in Appendix A of the »full report.
A combination of approaches were used to gain access to interviewees in the farming community. Interviewers attending marts (livestock markets) were given a brief outline of the project and the purpose of the questionnaire to help to recruit participants. Interviewers were not given selection criteria to use in their identification of participants as it was expected that the majority of attendees at a livestock market would be farmers and those that were not would be expected to be eliminated during the introductory conversation. Interviewers also attended National Register of Sprayer Operator (NROSO) roadshows organised by the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), which is the main agricultural education and training provider in Northern Ireland. Younger members of the farming community were approached through the Ulster Wildlife co-ordinated “Grassroots Challenge” which was run in association with the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster.
4. Market research results
In total 83 farmers from Northern Ireland were interviewed. These individuals ranged from “Under 20” to “80+” with 26% of respondents in the 40 – 60 age band, and representing a diverse range of farm types (Figure 1. Note respondents were permitted to include themselves in more than one farm type (e.g. arable and suckler)). Whilst 77 respondents stated that they owned a smart phone, only 2 currently used any app to assist them in planning their pesticide usage or container disposal, but 43 individuals did say that they were prepared to consider using a mobile app in future. Of the individuals who were not interested in a mobile app three indicated that they lived in an area where mobile reception was too poor, four felt that the training they had already received was sufficient and six preferred to receive training/information via a different medium.
In order to increase the appeal of the app to users it was important to determine the pesticide application methods used as this would strongly influence the information content of the final app. Whilst the vast majority of respondents used boom sprayers (Figure 2), there were also a number of individuals who used knapsacks and/or weed wipers. The extent to which farmers felt that they were aware of current best practice when planning for disposal of empty pesticide containers was also gauged as this would also influence the presentation of information in the app. 82% of respondents felt that they were at least “somewhat familiar” with the correct protocols.
Those respondents who were interested in a mobile app were offered a list of features that could be included and were asked to identify those that they would find useful (Figure 3). In the grassland sector of Northern Ireland farmers frequently select the most appropriate herbicides based on their own understanding of the active ingredients in individual products and so it is perhaps not surprising that further information on this matter was the most popular option (81% of respondents), followed by tips on best practice related to the application of the pesticides (the correct concentrations of pesticide to use (61%), correct ground conditions when spraying (63%), correct weather conditions (61%) and the correct buffer layout (65%)). There was less interest in aspects of pesticide usage that did not have such obvious financial implications (safe use of PPE and correct wash-down procedures both interested 42% of respondents). Respondents were also allowed to add their own suggestions and seven respondents requested that the app include record keeping functionality whilst another asked for more information on pesticide usage that arable farmers would tend to gain from their agronomist.
Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see » References