Monitoring the Sustainability of Agriculture

Q: How do we know if agriculture is becoming more or less sustainable?

A: By monitoring a set of indicators for sustainable agriculture.

Q: What do we mean by an 'indicator'?

A: An indicator is a measurement that allows us to monitor over time the sustainability or otherwise of a particular aspect of farm or land management.

Q: Are there different types of indicators?

A: Yes. There are three types:

Driving force indicators - these describe what is causing environmental, economic or social conditions to change

State Indicators - these measure the quality of the environment in agriculture, the stock and quality of natural resources available to it and the wealth and welfare that agricultural businesses generate

Response Indicators - these report the actions being taken by policy makers and farmers to respond to these driving forces.

Q: Can you give examples of each type?

A: Yes.

Examples of driving force indicators include:

(i) EU farm support payments
(ii) Nitrate and phosphorus losses from agriculture
(iii) Change in land use.

Examples of state indicators include:

(i) Farm Income
(ii) Organic matter content of agricultural topsoils
(iii) Populations of farmland birds

Examples of response indicators include:

(i) Payments (such as REPS payments) to farmers for agri-environment purposes
(ii) Area converted to organic farming systems
(iii) Planting of non-food crops

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