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Delivering farm based decision support - IF0108

The project will focus on delivery of a range of computer-based decision support, primarily based on mechanistic models of complex biological processes, which focus on rationalising pesticide use and minimising diffuse pollution.

The first specific objective of this project will be to complete the introduction into practice of the first tranche of decision support tools, as a complete integrated system, underpined by common data and unified distribution/user-support. The modules are: Weed Manager, Wheat Disease Manager, Oilseed Rape Manager - Pests and Diseases. The decisions on insecticide, herbicide and fungicide use on arable crops which can be supported by these modules determine inputs to a pesticide treated area (crop area x number of applications) of approximately 30million hectares, representing approximately two thirds of total pesticide usage on arable land by tonnage of active substance applied.

To influence these inputs substantially, a high proportion of decision makers need to be engaged in using decision support modules. Amongst other factors, uptake is constrained by the training and time required to master and use what is, to all users, a completely new type of tool. The research, development and validation of a new module takes several years. During this time new opportunities have arisen - through new IT developments and experience with the development of other systems - to minimise time requirements from users, and make updating and maintenance more efficient. These developments have been reviewed recently in Defra project IS0219 at Cranfield University. The review considered a matrix of types of decision support (ranging from relatively static encyclopaedic information to interactive, knowledge and model-based systems) and potential 'desk-top' and 'web-based' delivery mechanisms. The technical advantages and disadvantages of each combination are identified, thus narrowing the possibilities to a short list of those that are technically feasible and efficient. The second specific objective of this project will be to consult with existing and potential users on the longer term development of tools and time-efficient delivery mechanisms, in order to engage Defra's priority users. The work will involve consultation with stakeholders, including users, DSS developers (including the PLANET and MORPH teams), the commercial farm software companies, levy bodies and representatives of the arable industry. The result will be proposals and advice on the effective delivery of decision support tools with emphasis on exploiting synergies between systems and tools with respect to maintenance and user support. In collaboration with IS0219, the project will identify specific cases where complexity of models can be reduced, new methods of accounting for uncertainty can improve decisions, and simplified delivery mechanisms can improve uptake. One simple and effective method to engage decision makers is by providing examples of decision support in practice, so the third specific objective will be to use data from field sites across England and Wales to demonstrate appropriate inputs using decision support.

Defra is aiming to develop a Farm Advisory System (FAS), primarily to meet EU regulation R.1782/2003 that requires member states to set up a comprehensive system for advising farmers on land and farm management as part of CAP reform, but also to co-ordinate advice provision across the Department. The FAS project will consist of a solution based on current/planned products and services for farmers in use/development, rather than building a new entity. The advice will offered through a choice of interfaces, including electronically through the Whole Farm Approach web portal. Although the FAS project will not consider advice further than that required by the regulation, it will co-ordinate with other parts of Defra to ensure that the advice offered from Defra as a whole is valuable, up to date and consistent. The project proposed here will include consultation with the teams developing the Whole Farm Approach portal and the FAS, to identify any opportunities for wider integration and efficient delivery across the range of agriculture related decision support.
1. Complete the introduction into practice of the first tranche of decision support modules, as an integrated system, exploiting synergies between systems and tools with respect to data supply, maintenance and user support.

2. Combine technical and stakeholder assessments of delivery mechanisms to guide the longer-term development of tools and time-efficient methods to engage Defra’s priority users.

3. Provide examples of decision support in practice, and data for system testing, through field experimentation.

Project Documents
• Final Report : Delivering farm based decision support   (588k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2006

To: 2006

Cost: £144,230
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Central Science Laboratory, ADAS UK Ltd., Rothamsted Research (BBSRC), University - Cranfield
Arable Farming              
Decision Making