Ecosystem services in PPP regulations
Using an ecosystem services approach towards a sustainable approach to crop production
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
The socio-economic consequences of the various SPG options were illustrated to address the costs and benefits of different options to society.
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 (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.
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.