Microbial applications and agricultural sustainability: A simulation analysis of Dutch potato farms

Annika Francesca Tensi*, Frederic Ang, H.J. van der Fels-Klerx

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


CONTEXT: Fertilisers and plant protection products are essential for the economic viability of arable agriculture, but their overuse leads to environmental problems. Microbial applications have been proposed as a solution to reduce these environmental problems in arable farming. Experimental results suggest that microbial applications can increase yields and reduce abiotic stresses with fewer fertilisers and plant protection products. However, the overall effects of microbial applications on farm economics, the environment and social dimensions have not been quantified yet. OBJECTIVE: In this study, we assess the capacity of microbial applications to enhance the sustainability, including environmental, economic and social dimensions, of Dutch potato production. METHODS: We model a baseline scenario and a microbial application scenario with Monte Carlo simulation, and compare the scenarios using a composite sustainability index. The microbial application scenario is based on data from a Delphi expert elicitation. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The model indicates that, at present, microbial interventions do not contribute to the sustainability of Dutch potato production. In fact, the conventional baseline approach is more sustainable compared to the scenario involving microbial applications. In the microbial application scenario, cost per hectare of potato production is almost three times higher than in the baseline scenario, which are not covered by the 3.7% yield and 9.8% revenue increase. However, microbial applications can reduce CO2 emissions by 60% and active substances by 6.6%. Technological advancements are necessary to reduce costs per unit of production and increase environmental sustainability. SIGNIFICANCE: This study explores the impact of microbial applications on agricultural sustainability amid uncertainty, emphasising the need to quantify their effects. This study highlights the importance of economically viable sustainable practices to incentivise farmers' adoption. While efficient microbial applications can reduce reliance on conventional pesticides and fertilisers, they currently cannot contribute to the Farm-to-Fork reduction goals. Future research should focus on cost-effective microbial applications for disease prevention. We provide four routes for further research on microbial applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103797
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • Delphi
  • Dutch potato production
  • Expert elicitation
  • Microbial applications
  • Simulation modelling


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