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Testing the Usefulness of Environmental Indicator Systems

Project Period:

on-going as of 5/7/2002 1998-01-01 - 0000-00-00

Principal Investigator:

The project has collected and is analyzing 13 different environmental indicator models developed by U.S. researchers and international experts. The systems are designed to measure potential environmental impacts as producers reduce their pesticide use or switch to different pesticides. They calculate potential risk to the environment and human health by calculating the effects of pesticides on soil, ground and surface water, beneficial organisms, air, and, to some extent, human exposure. They do not factor in the cost and efficacy of pesticides that are often the determining factors for producers. The systems also approach the question of "risk" in different ways. The idea of using models to track environmental impacts is advancing most rapidly in Europe where models developed by eight European countries may be used to set policies for GATT, CAP and the European Agenda 2000. The systems are also being used to support eco-labels. Although a few have been tested using theoretical data, this is the first attempt to run the models with actual field data collected by farmers. We will determine if the systems produce similar results, if they can be easily used as decision aids by farmers and if we can factor the economics of pesticide use into them.

In June 1998, we held a workshop on environmental indicator systems in Chicago. The proceedings are available at: Since 1999, we have been collecting actual field data on pesticide use from farmers and have reconstructed each model from the literature and from conversations and correspondence with the researchers who have developed them. We have also collected and entered information about pesticides into spreadsheets (e.g. half life data, cancer potency index data, soil adsorption data, etc.). The models also require site-specific information to be entered such as temperature, wind speed, distance to water bodies, canopy measurements and soil types. In a concurrent project, we have added economic calculations to one of the environmental indicator models (Wisconsin potato project). We are now running the models with field collected data.

American Farmland Trust