British Society for Plant Pathology

BSPP Presidential Meeting 1997

Plant Pathology - Global Perspectives of an Applied Science

Session XI - Turning research into advice

Decision support systems - the answer to the ultimate question?
Dr David H. Brooks
Screech Cottage, Northchapel, Petworth, West Sussex, GU28 9EG

A very large number of decision support systems (DSS) have been developed for use in agriculture, but, almost without exception, these have fallen into disuse after a short period. Reasons include failure to pay adequate attention to the users needs in the design phase, they were too difficult or demanding to use, or they were not perceived to give sufficient benefit to the user

The advent of powerful PC's, and the increasing willingness of farmers and advisers to use them, is making possible a new generation of DSS based on mathematical models which simulate the development of crops and their associated pests and diseases, accounting for the impact of weather, pest pressure and other factors, and predicting the outcome of possible remedial measures such as application of pesticides.

The Decision Support System for Arable Crops (DESSAC) will, in time, provide a suite of such DSS modules which will address all of the key decision areas facing arable crop farmers. The module being developed for winter wheat fungicides illustrates some of the criteria which are thought to be important to success for a DSS. However ultimately it is the farmer or his adviser who takes crop management decisions: DSS can only provide support for such decisions.

Are farmers getting the message?
Mr William S. Clark
ADAS Boxworth, Cambridge CB3 8NN

Despite the technological revolution of global communication and a plethora of technologies that have engulfed the agricultural and horticultural industries many growers still find themselves isolated. The amount of information that is available within a subject area can appear vast to anyone surfing the net but in most instances information is not the problem. Gathering information does not necessarily help a user to make a decision. Historically 'information systems' have been set up to 'help' growers make decisions but almost without exception they have failed. DESSAC, described elsewhere in these abstracts, is one of the pioneers in a new breed of decision support systems which aims to help users, rather than bombarding them with information. Support to growers is undoubtedly vital as economic pressures grow and research findings produce more and more complex findings which need to be interpreted and then packaged for end users. Constructing advisory messages is alien to many researchers but having constructed the messages the method of delivery to end users can still be a problem. The best form of delivery is face to face discussion but this is grossly inefficient. Many variants of this have formed - specialist discussion groups, crop centres, focus groups, friends of research centres, research roadshows - and yet we generally only reach a very small percentage of growers, relying on a trickle-down to the majority of end users. The balance of funding for research versus funding for dissemination of advisory messages is under consideration by many funders but is not yet right. Without adequate funding for the transfer of messages from research findings there is little point in the research itself, other than as an academic exercise.

Do gardeners matter?
Pippa Greenwood
Hawkley, Liss, Hants. GU33 6NR

Given a title like this, my first instinct was simply to write 'YES' - Gardeners may not be the majority land owners or cultivators, but their potential influence on pathology is still very significant.

Domestic gardens and allotments are often blamed by farmers and growers as being the source of many disease outbreaks, the extent to which this is a fair criticism is analysed.

Whether growing edible crops or ornamentals, or a combination of both, the keen gardener should perhaps be viewed as a useful observer, perhaps not driven by commercial pressure, but all the same, often extremely observant and knowledgeable. Some examples of problems affecting garden plants, and the various methods we use to communicate information and advice about these to gardeners will be discussed. Problems associated with turning the information provided by research into information which can be easily understood and then used to the gardener's advantage are also discussed.

At certain levels, plant pathogens which prove to be a 'gardeners' nightmare', can raise questions and initiate investigation and research. After all, pathogens which may be of lesser significance commercially are still fascinating and research about these could provide useful spin-off sources of information for farmers and growers.

The role of botanic gardens in plant pathology. Looking forward to 1998, an exciting year in prospect
Prof. David S. Ingram FRSE
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 20A Inverleith Row, Edinburgh, EH3 5LR

Botanic gardens have an important role to play in applied plant pathology, as follows:

i) the maintenance of reference collections - living, preserved (in herbaria) and books;

ii) research in systematics (taxonomy and phylogeny), based upon the collections;

iii) diagnosis, including the development of novel methods;

iv) studies of the role of pathogens in natural ecosystems, and conservation;

v) education, including the training of new professionals, contributions to schools' curricula and the provision of information and advice to the public.

These functions will be adumbrated and illustrated.

1998 will be an exciting year for the British Society for Plant Pathology, with the prospect of constitutional change and the Seventh International Congress to be held in Edinburgh in August. The talk will therefore end with a brief overview of the year to come from the perspective of the incoming President of both the Society and the Congress.