20 February 1998

Package for

staying green

MEETING all the requirements of environmental legislation, codes of practice, assurance schemes and pesticide approvals is becoming increasingly difficult. But new computer software could help growers stay on course.

Workers at the University of Hertfordshire have developed a package which helps farmers identify the most environmentally acceptable approach for their specific farm circumstances.

"Environmental Management for Agriculture, or EMA for short, helps farmers check they are doing things right," says project manager Kathy Lewis.

"Assurance schemes, for example, say operations must be legal and safe, but they dont go to that extra level of saying what is legal and safe on your farm. EMA does.

"It has taken us three-and-a-half years and about £0.5m to get all the information loaded. But it is nearly ready for farmers to use now."

EMA contains MAFF advice, legal requirements and codes of practice and will have farm assurance schemes loaded soon.

Added to that is technical information, including fertiliser recommendations and pesticide labels. That means appropriate products can be listed and the environmental risks associated with them highlighted.

Finally, the package contains an extensive auditing facility. "Its a bit like the LEAF audit, only about 10 times more detailed. It asks for quantitative information, when and how products are to be applied and details of the farm and field in question."

Each input carries a so-called eco-score, based on its environmental profile. When that is added to the details of where and how the product is to be used, the overall score can be measured against an environmental index to show how acceptable the operation is.

Safeway is piloting EMA with its suppliers and has given a very positive response, says Mrs Lewis. Now MAFF has added extra funding to make the package more widely available. "The idea is to get it out into the industry for as little cost as possible. If we can do it for free we will. But it does need regular updating, so there is likely to be some cost."

As well as advice on crop inputs, EMA also looks at milk and beef production, thanks to funding from the Milk Development Council, and general farm operations.

EMA

* Novel software to help farmers improve environmental profile.

* Uses all current information.

* Assesses risks and suggests best alternatives.

* Piloted by Safeway.

* MAFF funding to make widely available.

EMA

&#8226 Novel software to help farmers improve environmental profile.

&#8226 Uses all current information.

&#8226 Assesses risks and suggests best alternatives.

&#8226 Piloted by Safeway.

&#8226 MAFF funding to make widely available.

Software support…Kathy Lewis of Herts University with EMA,the Environmental Management for Agriculture package, due on farm soon.