Problems with disseminating information on disease control in wheat and barley to farmers
Plant pathologists have traditionally worked in the area of clarifying and understanding the disease cycles of specific diseases, factors influencing epidemiology, yield loss potential and host-pathogen interactions in order to be able to minimise the disease risk, build warning systems or recommend specific control thresholds in relation to the application of fungicides. The decision support system Crop Protection Online (CPO) is an example of a threshold-based system that determines economically viable fungicide strategies. The system is based on using appropriate doses aimed at minimising the overall pesticide input. CPO is used widely by advisors and many of the thresholds are generally accepted and disseminated through newsletters. The national figures for the use of fungicides in cereals have shown a major reduction during the last 20 years and their use today is much in line with the level that can be achieved from using CPO as indicated from validation trials. The number of end-users among farmers has been stable at around 3% during the last 10 years (800–1,000 farmers). Major hurdles in increasing the number of users are believed to be: (1) the requirements for carrying out assessments in the field, (2) farm sizes getting larger, leaving less time for decision making for individual fields, (3) lack of economic incentives to change from standard treatments, (4) the failure of decision support systems to interact with other computer-based programmes on the farm, (5) the lack of compatibility of decision support systems with farmers’ ways of making decisions on crop protection in general, (6) the need for direct interactions with advisors. A sociological investigation into the farmers’ way of making decisions in the area of crop protection has shown that arable farmers can be divided into three major groups: (a) systems-orientated farmers, (b) experienced-based farmers and (c) advisory-orientated farmers. The information required by these three groups is different and has to be looked at individually from the end-user’s perspective rather than from the scientist’s perspective. New ways of entering the decision support system where specific field inspections are omitted and where regional disease data are relied on, have been investigated and tested in field trials. The results show possibilities for further developments in that direction, which might be one way of gaining more end-users.
KeywordsDecision support system Disease thresholds Eco-sociological barriers Farmer types Winter wheat
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