Ecosystem services in PPP regulations

Embedding ecosystem services in plant protection product (PPP) regulations. Providing a decision-making framework to drive sustainable herbicide use in crop production - to balance protection of crops and beneficial plants and control weeds detrimental to food production.

Using an ecosystem services approach towards a sustainable approach to crop production

Ramboll has developed an ecosystem services approach for CropLife Europe (formerly the European Crop Protection Association) in collaboration with Wageningen University when making decisions on the sustainable use of herbicides in food production. This provides both herbicide manufacturers and European regulatory bodies with a decision framework that predicts social, economic or environmental trade-offs for different weed management strategies.

Flowering annuals, perennials and woody non-target plants can grow through a crop, in managed field margins or in field boundaries or hedgerows. They provide valuable food sources and shelter for wildlife. However, pernicious weeds must be controlled to protect crops, yield and farm income.

This project, which concluded in 2020, evaluated crops grown across Europe and compared a selection of weed management strategies, to seek a balance between crop protection, non-target plant protection and weed control.

Developing a consistent framework

The objective was to develop an Impact Assessment Framework that can be applied to the assessment of plant protection product (PPP) use and fulfils the requirements of the European Commission’s Better Regulation Guidelines. The aim was to better understand the socio-economic and environmental trade-offs associated with meeting a range of specific protection goals (SPGs) – indicating different protection levels and weed management practices – and to inform on how to safeguard the competitiveness of European Community agriculture. The framework was ‘tested’ using case studies representative of northern, central and southern European countries, and a range of crop types and weed management scenarios.

The ecosystems services and natural capital team at Ramboll worked with Wageningen University on the development of this framework, bringing together a team of plant specialists, ecotoxicologists, economists and agronomists.

An innovative framework

All consequences of the different SPGs – measured using ecosystem services and socio-economic indicators and metrics - were valued qualitatively or quantitatively, and compared to derive net changes between scenarios in each case study. In this assessment, trade-offs between a change in SPG and a change in farmers practice were demonstrated, which linked back to potentially negative impacts or benefits on yield, employment, weed management costs, or the environment.

The socio-economic consequences of the various SPG options were illustrated to address the costs and benefits of different options to society.

Conclusions

The framework and case studies illustrated the importance of decision-making that considers the risks and benefits to ecosystem services provided by agricultural land under various crop production and weed management scenarios. This approach allows the consequences of weed control to be predicted and the sustainable use of herbicides (or alternatives) for both the environment and the farming industry.

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services (ES) are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human wellbeing. Examples include food and fibre, water purification, flood protection and recreation. The flows of benefits provided by the stocks of natural capital assets can be valued qualitatively, quantitatively and in monetary terms.

Regulatory decision-making

Regulators at European Commission and Member State level are tasked with making decisions on the sustainable use of plant protection products (PPP) following the review of environmental risk assessments by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Historically this decision-making process hasn’t considered benefits and trade-offs between protection goals, and in particular how individual PPPs affect the socio-economics of farming.

Regulations guide the decision-making process to ensure the protection of the environment, with specific protection goals (SPGs) used to operationalise the legislation into action. A first step towards the definition of these SPGs was proposed by EFSA in 2016 based on the ecosystem services

concept, but didn’t incorporate socio-economic considerations, such as employment, or deal with the trade-offs between different ecosystem services.

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  • Samantha Deacon

    Principal

    +44 7740 162333

  • Lara Alvarez

    Lead Consultant

    +44 20 7808 1484