iSGTW Feature - A FOOTPRINT keeps pesticides out of the water

Feature - A FOOTPRINT keeps pesticides out of the water

A Calvados producer may use as many as 100 different varieties of apple to produce their brandy. The apples used can be sweet (such as the Rouge Duret variety), tart (such as Rambault), or bitter (such as the Frequin, Saint Martin and Mettais varieties). Image courtesy Sandor Fizli

Apple farmers in France's Vallée d'Auge - a part of Normandy renowned for its apple-based Calvados brandy - apply the insecticide Phosmet to their orchards to keep apple worm caterpillars from ruining their crops. But they don't want to pollute local water sources in the process.

Knowing how much to add is tricky. Too little, and the compound will stay localized and break down before it travels far enough to do much good. Too much, and the pesticide may contaminate surface water and groundwater. The EU estimates that already 40% of Europe's surface water has been affected by such runoff problems, as have the fresh-water plankton, amphibians, fish and other organisms that dwell in it.

"A major difficulty so far has been the lack of tools allowing any pesticide user to know whether the application of pesticides may lead to a potential transfer to water resources," says Igor Dubus of the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières (BRGM), France's public geoscience institution.

An EU-funded consortium centered at BRGM, FOOTPRINT, has been seeking to develop computational tools for pesticide risk assessment and management throughout Europe.

In 2006, FOOTPRINT began running pesticide risk models for various locations, soil types, depths, slopes, and so on, in Europe. The team used the MACRO modeling software from Sweden and PRZM from the U.S., and collected the results in a data repository. They ran each of these models 50 million times in order to collect enough data. The models ran on computing resources from several projects including Enabling Grids for E-sciencE and FOOTPRINT@work, a distributed modeling system that makes use of BRGM corporate computers at night, when machines are typically unused.

Apple worm caterpillars can swiftly ruin an apple crop. Image courtesy of the Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.

A reservoir . . . of data

When a user sends a query to the FOOTPRINT tools, complete with information about his crop, soil type, the intended pesticide and other relevant information, this reservoir of data provides the basis for the answer. The software drills down through vast datasets and returns information on the likelihood of the pesticide reaching surface waters or groundwater.

Three tools are available, each tailored for different scales and audiences: 'farm-scale' for the farmer or agricultural advisor, 'regional-scale' for the local authorities, and 'national- or continent-scale' for ministries of European Member States or EU regulators.

"This is a major leap forward: any person, from decision-makers right through to farmers, will be able to do risk assessment for pesticides," Dubus says.

As of September 2009, FOOTPRINT will be made freely available for download. A dedicated team of FOOTPRINT scientists and technicians will provide long-term support.

"These tools will be a big help in keeping pesticides to minimal levels in watersheds," says Dubus.

-Danielle Venton, EGEE