Model Systems Are Decision-Support Tools, No More and No Less


Model Systems Are Decision-Support Tools, No More and No Less

Nadja El Benni

Nadja El Benni -  Head of the ‘Competitiveness and System Evaluation’ Strategic Research Division

Part of Agroscope’s agricultural research remit is to provide scientifically based decision-support tools, including forecasting systems that make use of weather data to predict the occurrence of certain diseases or pests. Agricultural economists also use various model systems for their calculations that serve as decision support tools for farmers as well as for administrators, policymakers and the general population.

A topical example of this is the study ‘Folgenabschätzung Trinkwasserinitiative: ökonomische und agrarstrukturelle Wirkungen’  (‘Drinking-Water Initiative Impact Assessment: Economic and Agricultural Structural Effects’)[SCA1] . Among other things, the Drinking-Water Initiative aims to restrict the use of pesticides. Farms that use pesticides or antibiotics prophylactically would no longer receive direct payments. This would entail changes throughout the entire agricultural sector. The system’s complexity and the numerous influencing factors involved make a simple prediction of the consequences impossible; however, with the help of scientifically grounded model systems, an analysis of the complex effects for various policy scenarios is possible. The model results provide findings for a range of possible outcomes. 

The informative value and quality of such model calculations are based on various elements: a scientifically, theoretically and empirically grounded model system, underlying data of high quality, and plausible assumptions. Moreover, transparency and stakeholder involvement are crucial for maximising decision-support benefits. The research work on the drinking-water impact assessments meets these requirements in full. At the same time, we must be aware that models are a simplification of reality, and can only ever illustrate potential future outcomes, and only certain partial aspects at that. The published study focuses on the economic and agricultural structural effects; the assessment of the environmental impacts that are part of a comprehensive harm-benefit analysis will take place at a later stage. 

The findings of the study are important and valuable – however, they are model-based decision-support tools – no more, no less. Ultimately, individual farmers must decide what plant-protection measures to take on their farms; the forecasting system can support them in the decision-making process. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the Swiss government, policy-makers and the general public to make policy decisions that shape the agricultural sector. Model calculations by researchers such as those for assessing the impact of the Drinking-Water Initiative help with the harm-benefit analysis, but cannot dictate decisions. 



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