Hardi International NS, Helgeshoj AlIe 38, Taastrup, Denmark

Environmental concern and tight economical pressures on crop production have increased the focus on need-based crop strategies, making use of the least necessary amount of crop protection agents. Such strategies increase both risk and the amount of factors included in the decision process. Detailed field scouting and weather data can be important elements, as can complex decision rules, taking into account additional factors such as the field history, the characteristics of crop protection agents and preferences of the farm manager.

Decision support systems of various kinds have been developed in a number of countries in order to supply farmers and advisors with consistent updated data and decision rules for the operational level of crop protection decisions. PRO-PLANT in Germany, NorPre in Norway and PC-Plant Protection in Denmark are examples of such systems being generally recognised and used widely in and outside their respective countries of origin.

The Danish system is at present being used by more than 2000 farmers, by all advisory offices, and by agricultural and vocational schools. Surveys among 580 users in 1995, and among advisors, have demonstrated its overall acceptance, and a large number of field tests have proved the performance of the system at field level.

The development and implementation of decision support systems require dedication and close cooperation from organisations at all levels in the process of delivering crop protection information to farmers. Farm advisory services play a key role in implementation and field validation; research institutes are playing an important role in their development, and the agrochemical industry plays a role in supplying pesticide information. Objectives must be agreed upon by the major players and the means of implementation, distribution and maintenance need to be defined and integrated from the very start of development.

The decision support systems with good uptake have proved to be of great importance in the process of delivering crop protection recommendations. They have become a common reference, indicating standardised observation techniques, important threshold values, and specifications of pesticides and crop varieties. The systems have resulted in an organised flow of information, speeding up the process of implementing new information and facilitating feedback from industry to research.

The development of such systems has turned out to be a focal point for much of the work being carried out by the organisations involved. In this case, the decision support system becomes an important tool when identifying new research areas in order to fill in knowledge gaps and improve systems reliability.