Dairy farmers are trialling a new environmental planner app to help them make decisions on which agri-environment options to introduce on farms.
The E-Planner tool, created by scientists at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), has been customised for specific use in the dairy sector.
Farmers will - for the first time - be able to make science-based decisions on which agri-environment options to introduce, and identify where sustainability initiatives are likely to perform best.
The tool will be trialled by farmers who supply dairy co-operative Arla Foods, and will analyse satellite imagery and environmental datasets.
It will assess the suitability of unproductive or hard-to-farm areas of land for four agri-environment interventions, including: planting flower-rich pollinator habitats; creating woodland; protecting water resources from pollution; and sowing winter bird food.
The farms additionally trialled wet grassland restoration and grassland productivity mapping. In practice, this will mean farmers can gauge the likelihood of success of the different environmental interventions and select the most suitable areas to enhance.
The tool works by calculating environmental factors that affect the suitability of the land for different environmental options, such as proximity to watercourses, south facing slopes or shading.
David Christensen, one farmer testing the technology, said the tool was helping to modernise the way he made management decisions for land that might have been previously considered unproductive in terms of sustainability and resilience.
"At the click of a button, we’re able to look at how the land behaves over time and can therefore make more educated decisions on how best to use all areas of the farm at key times of the year
"It’s going to make an enormous difference to many farmers and the world around us," Mr Christensen said.
Arla said its farmer suppliers 'cannot be expected' to automatically know which environmental measures best suit the land around them.
Graham Wilkinson, agricultural director at the co-op, said: "We hope that in working with UKCEH we can ensure that they have access to the tools and resources that enable the best decisions.”
UKCEH said the trial was a 'big step forward' in how scientists can advise farmers about environmental decisions.
John Redhead, senior spatial ecologist said: "Historically, it’s always been a challenge to bring together environmental information from digital data and farmer-specific local knowledge.
"The great thing about the tool is its ability to present complex and detailed environmental information in a way that’s easy for farmers to access and explore , enabling them to make the best possible decisions.”