9 December 2020

Calculating for biodiversity

December 9, 2020

One million - that is how many animal and plant species could become extinct in the next ten years, according to a 2019 United Nations report. This is a real problem for agriculture, because it is dependent on biodiversity: Countless species play a role in ensuring stable yields by creating healthy soils, controlling pests and pollinating flowers. Experts at BASF are therefore developing the “Biodiversity Calculator”, a software to help farmers protect animals and plants in their fields.

“The Biodiversity Calculator shows farmers how they can better protect the biodiversity on their farmland”, explains Kerstin Ulrich from the Agricultural Solutions division, who developed the Biodiversity Calculator together with colleagues from Corporate Sustainability and partner RIFCON. To do this, the Biodiversity Calculator draws on data from two different sources: The first data set provides information on the loss of animal and plant species in over 200 countries and ecoregions depending on the intensity of land use1. The second contains a series of measures that have a positive impact on biodiversity according to experts2. The Biodiversity Calculator also takes other factors into account, such as whether the land under cultivation is cropland or pasture. Based on this data, the program calculates an “Action Score”. “The higher this score, the better the biodiversity protection”, says Ulrich and adds: “The Biodiversity Calculator then suggests additional measures to protect biodiversity. If the farmer implements these suggestions as well, the Action Score increases.”

The newly developed Biodiversity Calculator helps farmers to better protect animals and plants in their fields.

For example, farmers in Great Britain achieves an action score of seven percent if they have already created a flowering strip next to the field. The flowering strip remains untouched, allowing insects and birds to retreat here and find food. If the farmer also follows the Biodiversity Calculator's suggestion and creates protection areas for larks (so-called larks windows), the Action Score rises to 14 percent. This is an effective way to show farmers how to protect biodiversity on their farmland even better, Ulrich said. 

Ulrich and her colleagues are currently still working on linking the Biodiversity Calculator with the other categories in AgBalance®, the BASF method to measure sustainability in agriculture. The efficiency of a product or process is evaluated by AgBalance® in the three key dimensions of sustainability: economy, social and environmental aspects. Until now the impact of agriculture on biodiversity could not be measured. “We are closing this gap with the Biodiversity Calculator,” says Ulrich. As the next step, the team wants to validate the Biodiversity Calculator with real data. This will allow us to check “whether the results of the Biodiversity Calculator match the actual changes on the farm.”

1 Chaudhary, A., & Brooks, T. (2018). Land Use Intensity-Specific Global Characterization Factors to Assess Product Biodiversity Footprints. Environmental science & technology, 52, 5094-5104. doi:10.1021/acs.est.7b05570
2 Dicks, L. V., & Ashpole, J. E. (2014). Farmland Conservation. Evidence for the effects of interventions in Northern and Western Europe. Cork: Pelagic Publishing. Retrieved from http://gbv.eblib.com/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=2038205
Birgit Hellmann
Global Sustainability Communications
Last Update 9 December 2020