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Stepping-up IPM decision support for crop protection

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - IPM Decisions (Stepping-up IPM decision support for crop protection)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-11-30

Farming must address the key challenge of increasing production of affordable food to meet global demand, whilst minimising environmental impacts. Crops affected by invertebrate pests, weeds or diseases (collectively ‘pests’) are less productive and plant protection products pose an environmental hazard. IPM Decisions is accelerating uptake of computer-based systems to support decisions by farmers and advisers on Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
Increased uptake of DSS should lead to improved decisions making on the farm, which would result in improved timing and targeting of plant protection products, and their integration with non-chemical methods of pest control. This should ultimately lead to a reduction in the application of plant protection products (and potentially also fertilisers) with a consequent benefit for society in terms of reduced diffuse pollution and reduced environmental harm.
Project Aim: Increase the impact of decision support systems for integrated pest management.
• Objective 1: Increase user access to, and uptake of, IPM Decision Support Systems (DSS)
• Objective 2: Quantify the benefits of using DSS
• Objective 3: Foster DSS innovation through the Platform, to secure longevity of impact

DSS cover a diverse range of decision tools including pest monitoring and treatment thresholds, forecasting pest density and damage, and systems for comparing treatment options; all of which can support implementation of IPM. We are addressing constraints on DSS use by creating a pan-European DSS Platform and associated ‘IPM Decisions Network’; the latter forming a community of DSS users and wider IPM stakeholders. The Platform is a web-based framework on which models/DSS for farmers and advisers, and tools to help evaluate, modify or construct DSS can be run. To bring about the behavioural changes needed for IPM to be implemented more fully, the project is using insights from the interactions with stakeholders to guide Platform design.

Priority for integration of existing DSS into the Platform focuses on the ‘most urgent cases’ of pest/crop combinations, based on:
• Intensity of pesticide use and treated crop area
• Environmental and human health concerns
• Degree of threat posed to production
• Risk of loss of control by pesticide withdrawal and resistance in target organisms
• Demand from farmers, advisors and other potential users

The DSS addressing these urgent cases are technically diverse. The functionality required to integrate these DSS with the Platform ensures general applicability of the Platform for DSS addressing many key crops and pests.
Uptake and impact from the project is driven by accelerating innovation and delivering economic advantage to users:
• Farmers and advisers - gain a simple ‘one-stop shop’ to find and run DSS
• Applied researchers or advisors - gain ability to adopt DSS developed in other countries and test/compare them for their regional conditions.
• Researchers - gain ability to adapt decision models to their regional conditions and rapidly evaluate the effect of the changes.
• DSS Developers - gain a ‘shop window’ to access more end users, and resources to accelerate DSS innovation.
Ensuring the platform delivers what users need:
Stakeholder workshops (390 participants in 12 countries) and questionnaires have confirmed the constraints on DSS uptake identified in the proposal are widespread across Europe. Some key differences between potential users were identified, differing by country and by type of user (farmers, adviser or researcher). Differences between users are being addressed by designing specific ‘dashboards’ for each user type. Key pests are being addressed by prioritising DSS for integration on the platform for different zones across Europe. Findings from stakeholder workshops and questionnaires are feeding back directly into the platform design, and open access publications are in preparation.

Building the platform:
A catalogue of IPM DSS has defined the inputs (e.g. weather variables and pest observations) and outputs (e.g. charts and text describing pest risk) which the platform interface needs to support. Four levels of interaction between DSS and the platform have been defined to suit different types of DSS. These four levels range between full integration (users interact with the DSS directly through the dashboard interface of the platform) through to a simple link to an existing DSS website. Application programming interfaces (APIs) have been developed to enable communications between the DSS and the platform.

Enabling testing and evaluation of IPM DSS:
Testing of DSS usually involves comparing predictions of pest risk against observational data of pest prevalence. However, predictive value does not necessarily translate into economic return and farmers are more likely to use a DSS if there is evidence for improved economics. Large losses for a low frequency of false negative predictions can outweigh many small gains from true predictions. Methods have been developed for economic analysis of DSS and are being applied to a set of contrasting pest/crop systems. To enable this analysis, data sets of pest observations and weather across many sites and seasons have been obtained.

Links to IPMWorks – Europe Wide IPM Demonstration Network
In addition to IPM Decisions, the EC has commissioned a complementary project ‘IPM Works’ (project no. 101000339) to increase uptake of IPM. Over the next four years this H2020 project will set up on-farm IPM demonstrations across Europe, including in-field demonstrations of DSS in association with the IPM Decisions Platform. This will substantially strengthen the practical impact from IPM Decisions. The leadership teams from the two projects are working together to maximise synergy.
The ambition is to move towards no pesticide waste, with optimal pest management and targeting of treatments. Trust in DSS is a key requirement to achieve this as the economic risks inherent in pest management decisions are high.
We are building trust by:
• A community approach, engaging DSS stakeholders through the IPM Decisions Network
• Transparency of information
• Understanding user attitudes to decision support
• Choice of DSS available through the Platform and Dashboards
• Providing reliable sources of data to drive DSS, through the Platform
• Evaluation and comparison of DSS benefits, explicitly accounting for risk

The project has expanded current knowledge through:
• Surveying a wide range of users across Europe regarding their attitudes to the use of DSS, enabling comparison of barriers and incentives between regions, sectors and socioeconomic groups.
• Produced a comparison of DSS that considers benefits in terms of reduction of inputs and economic benefit to farmers
• Creating a catalogue of DSS, summarizing system requirements and outputs.

The IPM Decisions Platform will be the first pan-European ‘click and go’ marketplace for IPM DSS and the data to run them. New products and services will be stimulated through:
• Development of new DSS, either by combining or adapting existing systems on the Platform, or de novo generation of new systems.
• Provision of remote and in-crop sensing equipment and services, linked to DSS.
• Integration of DSS into farm management software.
• Supply of meteorological data from networks or automated on-farm equipment.
Figure 1: Overview of the IPM Decisions Platform