29 September 1995

Spray advice for upgrading

FARMERS can look forward to sophisticated decision support systems that will improve fungicide advice in the future. Not only will they boost farm profits, they will also send a clear signal to the public that fungicides are used with care.

The need for such support is clear, according to Robert Cook, director of Morley Research Centre, Norfolk. More than 60% of farmers use advisers for fungicide decisions, with only 15% making entirely their own decisions. "An awful lot of farmers are making decisions from the office, based on risk assessment and advice."

By using powerful computer technology, expert systems can help balance and improve that advice, he suggested. With a confusing array of fungicides and difficult-to-identify diseases that will help cover all eventualities.

But systems need developing with care. They must:

&#8226 Be simple.

&#8226 Display results in financial terms, showing assumptions.

&#8226 Provide a range of options.

&#8226 Use familar language to avoid confusion.

Now ADAS, Silsoe Research Institute, Rothamsted, Morley and Optimix Computers are co-operating in a LINK project funded by MAFF and the HGCA. Branded DESSAC the £1m effort aims at a decision support system within five years.