An Analysis of Environmental Management Approaches with Six Midwestern Dairy Farms: Informing Progress Toward a Sustainable Agriculture

Final Report for LNC04-239

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $148,851.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Mrill Ingram
Environmental Resources Center, UW-Madison
Expand All

Project Information


A comparison of 6 different agricultural-environmental approaches identified strengths and gaps within each program. Case studies of farmers utilizing each of these programs illustrated how agricultural sustainability is farmer driven, and three practices – commitment to stewardship, transparency of operations and involvement of community, and continual improvement through planning, monitoring, assessment, and action – are common among successful managers. We asked farmer collaborators to develop an Environmental Management System (EMS) to explore whether the EMS planning process would complement the other programs. Implementation of an EMS helped farmers prioritize environmental aspects and led to action to improve environmental farm management.


The environmental impact of farming in Wisconsin and the quest to understand “agricultural sustainability”

Working lands are synonymous with Wisconsin, with 15,300,000 acres of land being managed on 76,000 farms (Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service, 2006). When all land – public and private – is considered, agriculture ranks as the principal land use for the state, with 37 percent of land in agricultural production. Of privately owned land, 46 percent is in agricultural production (Foltz and Turnquist, 2006, pg. 4). With close to 14,000 dairy farms in the state in 2007, Wisconsin’s agricultural landscape is dominated by family-scale dairy farms. The large acreage of land being managed by individual producers implies that farmers have a tremendous collective impact on the environmental health of Wisconsin’s land and water resources.

The concept of agricultural sustainability addresses how farming can be done in such a way as to mitigate potentially negative impacts, and – in the best of practice – advance the ecological health of land and water resources. Sustainable agriculture generally embraces three main goals: environmental health, economic profitability, and social equity and quality of life (Allen 1993; Feenstra et al. 1997; Horne & McDermott 2001; MacRae et al. 1990). The paths to sustainable farming are diverse, and will vary according to landscape, type of farming operation, and farmer management. While farming practices vary, there are recognized elements of environmentally beneficial practices. These include Integrated Pest Management, rotational grazing, increasing soil organic matter, diverse and locally adapted crops, water conservation and pollution prevention, effective nutrient management, energy efficiency, wildlife habitat preservation, and a sensitivity to ecological niche and landscape diversity (Bird et al. 1995; Lockeretz 1997; SAN n.d.). Other practices associated with agricultural sustainability include: the restriction of using genetically modified organisms; restriction on uses of antibiotics to avoid development of resistance; animal health and well-being through access to the outdoors; and increasingly, promotion of access to local/regional markets.

The three main goals of agricultural sustainability are interconnected: concern for the ecological integrity of land, water, and air resources is not sufficient for sustainability. Sustainability also has to take into account the human factor – that farmers can remain on the land demands economically sustainable enterprises and vibrant, healthy rural communities. It has long been recognized that there is an environmental cost to agricultural production, in addition to nonenvironmental costs (such as impacts on workers, communities, and consumers). Rural Sociologist Fred Buttel has used the term “societal costs” to encompass the various aspects of agricultural production that lend toward undesired externalities, such as degradation of the environment and natural resources. Societies have imposed “institutional interventions” – to greater and lesser degrees – to mitigate against these costs and to internalize them as factors of production. The two most common forms of internalizing costs – regulation and market incentives – make use of government regulatory controls, modification of pricing signals to indicate societal preferences, and government cost-sharing programs (which combine regulatory and market incentives) (Buttel, 2003).

Indeed, farming is increasingly guided by a plethora of regulatory and market-based programs. Regulatory programs impose operational restrictions and guidelines to assure that farming practices work to the benefit of the public good and protect commons resources. Market-based programs respond to cost-signals from the market and provide information to consumers about the nature of the product and, at times, the invisible aspects of production practices that led to the creation of the product. In the U.S., these market based incentives offer alternatives, such as organically produced, which has led to a strong organic production sector. In Europe, stronger market-driven supply chain signals have led to retailers’ implementation of quality requirements for their growers. In order to capture market share, large scale retailers adopt quality and safety standards, and intern communicate these standards to the consumer. Supply chain pressure can have a stronger impact that market incentives (such as certification schemes) in that they affect larger scale agricultural production, distribution, and processing enterprises (Gunningham, 2007: 307).

Across nations, governments – in order to reduce the costs of implementing regulatory programs and as response to resistance to mandatory regulation – have promoted voluntary programs to improve the sustainability of farming operations. Management systems such as Environmental Management Systems (EMS) have been tested and promoted as a means of setting a voluntary standard and providing a protocol for implementation of environmental improvements. These voluntary programs have alternatively been heralded as ‘flexible’ or chastised as ‘toothless.’

While there is great variation in environmental management approaches – be they voluntary, regulatory, market incentive, or a combination of these – adopted by various farmers, it is difficult for an outside observer to assess the effectiveness of any particular approach, or of the ‘environmental sustainability’ of any particular farm. Likewise, farmers utilizing various approaches tend to emphasize particular aspects of sustainability, as per the emphasis of the approach employed.

Management is a common theme in discussions of sustainable practice. As John Gardner has written: “The most significant aspect of a more ecologically sustainable farm is the least observable: the difference in its management. Management is the fundamental key to identifying a sustainable farm,” (in Bird et al. 1995, 49). Professors Rick Welsh and Thomas Lyson, in an unpublished essay entitled “The Management Question in Sustainable Agriculture,” suggest that farm management differs based on whether the farmers adhere to a neoclassical view of the world, and adjust their farming practices to conform to that viewpoint, or whether farmers adhere to a less formal view of good farm management, such as a sustainable view. Sustainability allows more variables to enter into the equation of what constitutes good farm management, and thus goes beyond production economics to include ecosystem integrity, quality of life, and the roles played by all members of the farming operation. Welsh and Lyson write, “We need to be less dogmatic in what constitutes a good or bad manager. Part of doing this is moving beyond the ideology that productivity and profitability are of primary importance and always positively correlated. A different calculus needs to be employed that gives equal weight to the issues of social and ecological integrity and sustainability.” (Welsh and Lyson, date unknown, pgs. 19-20).

There is a need in the ever-expanding discussion about the goals of sustainability and in the efforts of people – particularly farmers – to put ideals into practice, to have a solid grasp on how different existing management structures are informing progress toward sustainability on the ground.

The first major goal of this research project was to examine six existing management programs and to identify the explicit environmental goals of each of these approaches. Case studies of six farms viewed as exemplary by those familiar with each particular management approach further elucidated how farmer management is a critical aspect of program effectiveness and of environmental stewardship.

The second goal of the project was to use the Environmental Management Systems (EMS) to address the sustainability gaps in the six examined environmental management approaches, and to identify options, priorities and feasible strategies for filling those gaps. For each of the six case study farms, our project “coach” worked with the farmers to develop a continuous improvement EMS. Farmers identified priority environmental aspects to work on, and established an environmental performance and improvement plan. Benefits and constraints of utilizing an EMS were identified through this process. Finally, we detail how we believe that an EMS can be an effective supplemental planning process (to already existing programs) that supports farmer-driven management toward sustainable practices.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each environmental management scheme based on its written directives, recommendations and procedures.

Objective 2: Develop a case study of each farm to help us assess how the different schemes operate in practice and to ground-truth our analysis of the documentation.

Objective 3: Develop an environmental management system for each farm to address gaps in environmental performance.

Objective 4: Improve the viability of the EMS process to move all types of farms toward genuine sustainability.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • William Bland
  • Karl Hakanson
  • Charlotte Lake
  • Sharon Lezberg


Materials and methods:

The study methodology was broken down into four project phases. These phases were implemented over the course of three years.

Phase I: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each environmental management scheme based on its written directives, recommendations and procedures;

Farming is increasingly guided by a plethora of regulatory, market-based and voluntary environmentally-focused programs that reflect a range of different requirements and incentives. Accompanying the growing conversation about sustainability, the agricultural sector has seen a burgeoning of new programs and green labels. In order to evaluate the impact of these programs and eco-labeling systems, we choose six representative programs that addressed the agriculture/environment nexus. The six environmental management schemes studied include those that are commonly used for dairy producers in the Midwest, as well as a few that are less widely practiced.

The six programs cover a range from regulatory to market-based to voluntary management, and include:

(1) A Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO -- more than 1,000 animal units) operating under a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit (WPDES) (WI-NR243);
(2) A “conventional” operation meeting Wisconsin state requirements for participating in the Farmland Preservation Program (FPP) (NR 151 runoff rule and NRCS Standard 590 nutrient management plan);
(3) Federally certified organic (NOP);
(4) Holistic Management (HM);
(5) Certified Food Alliance (FA); and
(6) Demeter certified biodynamic.

Project staff conducted a comprehensive literature review of the six management approaches, including the certification and regulatory requirements. The analysis compared the stated principles, objectives, standards, required and prohibited practices and management procedures of all of the six different schemes to identify the elements of environmental sustainability that are, and are not, addressed. Documents including certification requirements, regulatory standards and specifications, guiding philosophies, goals or objectives, specifics of any practices allowed or not allowed, performance standards, facility or structural specifications and operating procedures for each scheme.

Phase II: Develop a case study, in collaboration with six dairy farms employing six different schemes to achieve environmental stewardship.

These case studies were utilized to assess how the different schemes operated in practice and to ground-truth our analysis of the documentation.

Each of the six dairy farmers participating in the research represented an exemplar of the six different environmental management approaches. The cooperating agency, certifying organization or certified educator representing each of the six management schemes recommended these farmers as excellent managers and representatives of the program. The six farmers agreed to participate in this project. Farms involved in the study, and their locations, were:

WPDES permitted: Cottonwood Dairy, South Wayne, Wisconsin

Soil and water conservation: Koenig Farm, Loganville, Wisconsin

Certified Organic: R&G Miller & Sons, Columbus, Wisconsin

Holistic Management: Cedar Summit Dairy, New Prague, Minnesota

Midwest Food Alliance Certified: Benrud Farm, Goodhue, Minnesota

Biodynamic: Nokomis Farm, East Troy, Wisconsin

We collaborated with each cooperating farm to assess how they practice their respective environmental management approaches. During farm visits and interviews we explored how each farmer’s decision-making process and management protocols are informed and directed by the standards or recommendations of certifying, regulatory and technical assistance agencies. These case studies helped to identify a full array of environmental concerns or sustainability shortcomings on dairy farms.

The case studies documented the farmers’ perceptions and opinions about the management schemes and their implementation of them, and investigated their reasons for involvement. The case study interviews elicited descriptions of how the farmers experience their management approaches, the benefits they enjoy, the barriers they face, and the challenges they’ve addressed.

During the last stage of case study, farmers collaborated with project staff to identify key areas where the farm falls short of sustainability. Farmers and researchers identified “environmental aspects” on their farms. These aspects included: well water protection, nutrient management and manure application, manure storage, barnyard and feedlot management, milking center wastewater management, feed management, dairy pest management, crop pest management, energy conservation, and farmstead facilities.

Phase III: Develop an environmental management system (EMS) for each farm to address gaps in environmental management;

In year two and three project staff worked with each of the participating farmers to add formal EMS processes to their management procedures.

Project staff conducted trainings for farmers individually to explain the EMS process and begin the step-by-step process laid out in our EMS Guidebook based on the key steps in the ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems Standard. The farmers completed the steps in the EMS process with assistance from project staff acting as a “coach.” The coach helped to locate relevant resources and bring in other support persons on the various environmental aspects identified by the farmers. Staff also provided documentation of the EMS process and results.

Development of an ISO-14001 equivalent EMS standard would include the following steps:

- Take stock of existing resources and conditions;
- Review current environmental management and priority environmental issues;
- Conduct a comprehensive environmental regulatory review to ensure compliance with all applicable environmental laws;
- Develop an environmental “policy” or mission statement;
- Determine environmental priority objectives;
- Develop emergency, accident prevention and response plans;
- Choose appropriate practices, procedures, tools and technologies to address prioritized environmental issues;
- Develop useful, effective documentation procedures;
- Assign responsibilities and develop schedules for implementing an environmental program;
- Identify training or professional development needs and establish procedures for meeting them;
- Develop internal and external communications strategies for family, employee, consultant and community involvement;
- Monitor and document performance and make corrections;
- Conduct management review, analyze performance, and institute an on-going cycle of continuous progress toward environmental sustainability;
- Set new performance improvement objectives for the next year.

For participating farmers in our study, only a few of these steps were actually completed.

Phase IV: Improve the viability of the EMS process to move all types of farms toward genuine sustainability.

At the conclusion of the case studies and development of the EMS on the participating farms, project personnel evaluated the process of developing EMS. The analysis included:

- evaluation of the process and how it was implemented, with farmer input
- analysis of the transferability of the EMS process to farms of various sizes,
- reflection on the case studies and EMS development experiences in light of the goal of continuous improvement toward environmental sustainability,

Project staff also participated in the development of outreach materials to share the results of the study. These materials included the revision of the case study profiles, findings and recommendations on EMS, and suggestions for the revision of EMS protocols for wide spread utilization and continuous improvement of farm environmental aspects.

Research results and discussion:

Summary of Project Results: The six environmental management approaches provide direction and standards for environmental management, but on-farm environmental sustainability happens primarily because of farmer initiative. We found that the successful farm environmental managers from our case study farms consistently exhibited three characteristics: Commitment, Community, and Continual Improvement.

The EMS supplemented the other programs that farmers were involved in, and provided direction on aspects of environmental management that were missing from the programs, namely: energy use and conservation, air quality, resource conservation (incl. water), and resource recycling. The EMS was a useful tool to guide farmer driven environmental management. For many farmers, the EMS highlighted areas of concern that had been overlooked. It also helped farmers prioritize concerns and actions. However, it entails a fair amount of paper work, planning, and monitoring. For this reason, it is recommended that farmers work with a coach to develop an EMS.

Details on the results of this project are presented below in four sections to correspond to the various phases of the project.

Phase 1:  Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each environmental management scheme based on its written directives, recommendations and procedures.

The certification and regulatory programs (described in more detail in project report appendix A) reflect a range of different requirements and incentives for farmer participation, including marketing certification (organic, and to a lesser extent Food Alliance and biodynamic), voluntary management programs for improved personal, business and environmental management (Holistic Management and biodynamic), incentive programs through property tax reductions from Farmland Preservation Program (eligible conventional farms), and regulatory programs that mandate specific management practices for larger farms (CAFO regulations).  

Our analysis of six different programs is an inquiry into how polices and programs may be responding to the discourse on sustainability, and informing farmers in specific ways about environmental management. We examine the specific ways in which policies require farmers to attend to social, economic and ecological issues. We also investigate the range of policy tools relied on by certification and policy structures to motivate, mandate and facilitate agricultural sustainability. Our investigation is oriented toward understanding, from the point of view of the farmer, the environmental performance requirements, but also dimensions of community support, program oversight, goal setting requirements and enforcement provided by different programs.

Our metrics for analyzing programs emerge from three areas:  (1) How do programs create and expect personal motivations and choices? Does a program support a farmer as a decision-maker?  (2) How does each program conceive of the “social neighborhood” or community of a farmer? Are there requirements for community participation? (3) In reference to the biological and physical environmental context of a farm, what practices are recommended and required?  

We researched the history of each program’s development and also took note of the social context: how people learn about the program, what appears to be expected of farmers in terms of paperwork, time to implement, responsibility for implementation, oversight and consequences for failing the program. We interviewed certifiers, educators, agency people and others involved in the implementation of different approaches.  

The Matrix:  As a result of our investigations we created a matrix of “Farmer, Community and Biophysical Dimensions of Six Environmental Agriculture Programs.” The matrix is informed by content analyses of regulations and requirements of our six programs. As described, these programs are diverse and cross comparison is not always a straightforward process. A comparative approach is rewarding, however, in revealing overlapping interests in the programs as well as a general sense of how new policy and program developments are responding to new ideas about agricultural sustainability.  

Program Analysis/General findings as reflected in the matrix:

Farmer Responsibility and Program Oversight:  The programs revealed a mix of requirements regarding initial application costs and time investments, requirements for record keeping, continuing education and continual improvement and even larger context goals for financial planning and quality of life.  All programs have a degree of oversight to assure compliance – variously relying on reporting and planning requirements, inspections, and consequences for failure to comply.

Voluntary management programs emphasized continuing education, continual improvement, and holistic thinking. Holistic management, in particular, emphasizes how
environmental management goals fit in with quality of life and economic goals.  

Programs differ in the degree of flexibility allowed to meet requirements, which raises interesting issues. Farmers criticize overly strict and rigid guidelines, as they cannot adjust to unique circumstances and practices. Yet regulatory flexibility can also be regarded as toothless rules. Areas where programs have flexibility provides a lens to understanding the emphasis of the program. For example, the NOP (organic) rules are rigid regarding product quality standards, but allow greater flexibility with regard to erosion control than do the more conventional soil and water conservation programs. While program parameters can dictate various aspects of a farming operation, farmer management capability and personal intent drive the farm’s movement toward sustainability.  

Community:  In the section for “community” we included aspects of programs that encouraged farmers to consider their neighbors, customers, and peers. We included ways in which programs encourage community input, farmer networking, labor welfare as well as more general awareness of “the public” in their efforts. Together, the programs include specific requirements for employee health and safety, employee participation in management, consumer product quality, and opportunities provided for neighbors and wider community input into farm management.

Food Alliance is the only program at this point with specific standards for employee health and safety including points given for policies that encourage employee input into farm decision-making. Holistic Management, with its emphasis on acknowledging the community of decision-makers that each farmer relies upon, could support a stronger focus on labor, although the program contains no specific guidelines as such.

Consumers and product quality are of course a central concern for the organic program.  The biodynamic standards and Food Alliance also contain some requirements for maintaining product separation.  

Farms have been traditionally regarded as independent businesses, and as such, have not typically been required to incorporate community concerns or oversight in their management decision-making. However, with increased recognition that farms of all sizes exert an impact on public resources (in particular, surface and ground water), farming as an enterprise has increasingly been open to public scrutiny. Still, few programs insist on decision making in the context of the community or watershed. The CAFO permit is the only process requiring public input into decision-making. This, of course, is directly related to the fact that CAFOs can have a very heavy impact on their neighbors in terms of odor, noise and other nuisance issues. The Food Alliance is the only certification program to mention neighbors: the manure management plan specifically gives points for managing manure such that odor is minimized on neighboring farms. The USDA NOP requires that all organic certifiers be in turn certified according to a standard called ISO 65, which means that complaint logs are kept and inspected. Thus, if neighbors were to file complaint against a farm certified by a certain agency, that certifier is required by the standard to evaluate and address that complaint as needed.  
Biophysical Environment:  By reviewing the requirements of these six programs we came up with a long list of environmental aspects that are considered key to good environmental management. Some environmental issues, such as soil and water, receive a lot of attention in the programs, and with varying emphases on organic matter, compaction, erosion, soil testing and crop rotations. Water quality also involves several dimensions for management including runoff from fields and facilities and pathogen contamination. Other areas of the environment, such as water quantity conservation, energy use, air quality and recycling of materials receive almost no attention at all.

Soil:  As one might expect, given the history of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the emergence of federal agricultural programs from the dustbowl experience, federal programs have many specifics regarding soil erosion and water quality management. The NRCS Standard 590 Nutrient Management Plan, for example, includes requirements for soil testing, farming to “tolerable soil loss (T)”, specific restrictions on place and time of manure spreading and fertilizing, and details on how to credit nutrients. In addition, the 590 Standard includes criteria to minimize entry of nutrients to ground and surface water. Wisconsin NR 151 Runoff Management, applicable to all farms, states, “land where crops or feed are grown shall be cropped to achieve a soil erosion rate equal to, or less than, the “tolerable” (T) rate established for that soil.”

Organic matter content in soils is not a part of the conventional programs, although this may change with the creation of a new NRCS Soil Conditioning Index.  In contrast, organic matter, central to the organic approach, is well covered in the NOP and also important to Biodynamic and Food Alliance certification. The NOP’s language regarding organic matter, runoff and erosion requires crop management practices that: “maintain or improve soil organic matter content in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances.”  

Soil testing, while mentioned in all programs, is only required for conventional farms working to apply for a federal conservation program and to comply with the NRCS 590 Standard. However, monitoring of soil fertility is required by National Organic Standards, and at least one certifier reports that “most’ farmers use soil testing as the only means to establish that fertility inputs are not being applied excessively and that crop rotations are maintaining or improving fertility and organic matter.  

Crop rotation, also, is stated as highly desired by all programs as a critical tool in effective soil quality management, but is only mandated in biodynamic and organic programs.  Differences also show up in allowance of sludge and biosolids (prohibited by biodynamic and organic); and the requirement to keep livestock as a key to soil fertility management (only for biodynamic).

Water Quality:  All programs focus on water quality, especially in terms of protection from manure and nutrient-contaminated runoff from farm facilities and fields. Biodynamic certification has the least amount of specific standards regarding containment of potential runoff from farm buildings.

Air Quality:  Air pollution is a barely emerging issue for agriculture. Although federal agencies are currently entertaining ways of regulating air quality of confined animal feeding operations, which have been implicated in severe odor, dust and ammonia problems, the farm management programs reviewed here pay little attention to air quality.  Of concern to Biodynamic, organic and Food Alliance programs is the potential for pesticide drift, and these programs all provide stipulations on how to address this.  

Resource Conservation:  Another area that receives very uneven attention is general conservation of resources, especially energy use and conservation. This was the greatest gap that we discovered in these agriculture-environment programs, and is undoubtedly due to the lateness in consideration of energy conservation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as a critical component of sustainability. While farmers are expressing concern about this area of farm management – due both to the economics of energy cost and genuine concern about the impact of farming on greenhouse gas emissions – programs have not incorporated this concern into their regulatory or market based incentive structure. However, independent organizations are responding to farmer concern with information programs, farm energy assessment tools, and promotion of energy conservation technologies and cost sharing programs (in Wisconsin, this is primarily through the Focus on Energy program, but other organizations are also playing a role in helping farmers reduce energy use). As important as energy is to agricultural production, and as much change, as we are likely to see regarding energy economics and supply, it is likely that some of these agricultural programs will begin to include energy use and conservation in their requirements.  

Wildlife & Biodiversity Management: Wildlife and biodiversity management are a key tenet of Food Alliance, which gives points to farms that make habitat conservation improvements or make efforts to link their conservation efforts to wildlife protection activities on a broader scale. New criteria for biodiversity have recently been drafted for the NOP, which up to this point contained little in the way of specific recommendations or advice for certifiers. Biodynamics also has recently developed requirements regarding wildlife management or preservation. Invasive and endangered species are particularly mentioned in the NOP and Food Alliance requirements. The CAFO permit process includes an Environmental Assessment Questionnaire with specific questions about existing wildlife habitat and implications, although the importance of the questionnaire to the permitting process is unclear. While the farmland preservation program does not address wildlife and biodiversity specifically, other federal government programs administered through the NRCS – specifically the Conservation Reserve Program – do emphasize this component.  

Crops and Livestock Management:  General issues of livestock and plant health – considerations of welfare, humane treatment, appropriate plant type selection, wild cropping and the use of genetically modified organisms -- are all regulated by various programs. Food Alliance has many sector specific requirements for proper livestock care, as does Biodynamics. The NOP also includes livestock production requirements such as access to pasture and allowance for natural behaviors, as well as a plant disease management plan. Humane treatment of animals is not at all considered by the conventional programs, although the management of crops and livestock as it influences farm nutrient balance, is a concern and addressed in both NR243 on animal feeding operations and NR 151 on runoff management. Working with the community dynamics of an agricultural ecosystem—taking advantage of natural relationships between different kinds of plants, or plants and insects and other animals, is specifically addressed in biodynamic, Food Alliance, organic and the holistic management approach, but is not a part of the CAFO requirements or FPP program.

Phase 2:  Develop a case study of each farm to help us assess how the different schemes operate in practice and to ground-truth our analysis of the documentation.
To complement the textual analysis of each of six agricultural-environment programs, we conducted case studies on six exemplary farms to determine how farmers put these programs into practice. Of interest was how farmers prioritize environmental issues, and how they are influenced by various programs. How important were the program parameters for guiding farmers in environmental sustainability?  

Our case studies indicate that, regardless of the program utilized by each farm, farmer autonomy and decision making in environmental management matters. The programs provide a framework for addressing environmental management.  Individual managers can go above and beyond the specifics of the framework, but involvement in the program indicates an adherence to a particular set of management parameters, and typically to a philosophy of environmental management. The take home message from the case studies: sustainability doesn’t happen solely because of farmer participation in Agriculture-Environment programs. It happens primarily due to farmer initiative. Programs and management practices provide support for farmer initiative.  

Successful farmers exhibit certain characteristics that drive their environmental management practices. These characteristics can be summed up as the “three Cs”:

(1) Commitment: commitment to stewardship and environmental management is good business practice.
(2) Community: transparency of operations and involvement of community improves farm management and the ability of a farmer to respond to local concerns.
(3) Continual improvement: program requirements and legislative mandates are only a starting point. Good managers seek continual improvement through planning, monitoring, assessment, and action.

A few stories from the case study farms illustrate how farmers went beyond program requirements to achieve improved environmental management.

The organic farm illustrates the practice of continual improvement.  The organic dairy farmers in our study have been certified organic since 1997. They experienced a rough transition time, but were fully committed to being organic, and weathered through the early years. Now, they have totally converted their land and their herd. These farmers are successful (both in terms of production and economic aspects), but they do not rest on the status quo of merely meeting standards. During the study period, the farmers were concerned about how to use less energy and have fewer tractor passes through their fields. To achieve their goals, they reviewed current research on alternative cropping practices and animal feeding, and they engaged University researchers in conducting on-farm trials at their farm to test no-till organic soybean rotations. They also changed their feed mix to replace some corn with beans and oats. These practices helped to reduce passes on the field, and thus saved on biodiesel use and farmer time (despite reduced soybean yields in the first two years of the trial). The farmers, nevertheless, are committed to testing the practice further, as they seek to meet their goal of reducing tillage. These farmers are also working to develop their conservation lands (CRP Tier III) and have implemented a bird habitat restoration plan.  

The Food Alliance farm illustrates the practice of commitment to an environmental vision. This family farm is a grass-based dairy with about 90 cows. Their vision of sustainable agriculture is realized their commitment to practices of intensive rotational grazing and developing a diverse and permanent agroecology. The commitment to a sustainable agriculture drives decision making: in the case of this farm, for example, the farmers have decided not to grow corn, even though it would raise milk production, because it would demand high energy use for plowing, planting, and weeding. Grazing reduces energy use, and is good for a wide range of wildlife.

The farm guided by holistic management exemplifies the practice of community. For these farmers, family and community have been paramount. But the decision-making process of holistic management helped them forge a whole new relationship with community. The farm is located in an area where exurbs have been encroaching. The farm turned this into an advantage, first by starting a direct marketing retail meat business with pasture-raised chickens, and later raising hogs, beef, and dairy cows, and then building an on-farm creamery and store in order to direct market their products and to be in close touch with their consumers. The family sells a range of products at the on-farm store and at multiple farmers markets. This has enabled the farm to stay profitable, and for the family to stay on the farm. This farm is also certified organic, and certified with Food Alliance Midwest.

The document analysis of the various environmental management approaches showed attention to a wide range of environmental management and sustainability dimensions, as well as gaps in each of the programs. Our case studies of exemplary farmers indicate that these programs can help guide program participants toward sustainable practices, if coupled with farmer initiative, as exemplified by the three Cs: commitment to sustainability, relationship with community and continual improvement.

Phase 3:  Develop an environmental management system for each farm to address gaps in environmental performance.
Definition of EMS

An Environmental Management System (EMS) is a decision-making process that has been formalized as an international “standard” in order to respond to growing interest in a production process that includes the environment as a core aspect of management (von Zharen 1996). The EMS approach, like Holistic Management (, offers a methodical process through which practitioners can gain insight into the specific environmental vulnerabilities they face, and also devise a management system that integrates environmental health along with other goals such as economic and social viability. The EMS offers a powerful decision-making aid for farmers facing a diversity of pressures and handling many variables.  The process is designed to assist producers in a wide range of enterprises to move toward sustainability on multiple fronts. Farmers building an EMS work to identify the environmental missions and long term goals of their operations, as well as to develop emergency and other contingency plans, create systematic and verifiable procedures for continuous improvement, and communicate about these efforts with employees and neighbors.

Objective three of this project was to develop an environmental management system for each farm to address gaps in environmental performance. We wanted to test whether the EMS approach can help fill gaps in the six management approaches, and likewise whether those programs can help us clarify the EMS as a viable strategy for sustainable agricultural management. We hypothesized that the EMS and Holistic Management approaches will be roughly equivalent in their power to move a farm continuously closer to environmental sustainability, though the EMS approach, if supported by “regulatory flexibility” programs like Wisconsin’s Green Tier program will be more attractive to larger scale farmers contending with regulations. Holistic Management may better support improved management of the whole farm (including aspects other than environmental stewardship).
EMS Background and Materials

The protocol used was based on approaches developed as part of a USDA-funded research project ( that pilot tested various EMSs in different agricultural settings in ten states, and the AgEMS Guidebook developed for farm audiences ( as part of the Wisconsin portion of this project. The approach used was to have a “functionally equivalent” EMS to the International Standards Organization (ISO) 14001 Environmental Management Systems International Standard.  An ISO 14000 EMS consists of seventeen elements (

Frequently mentioned potential benefits of AgEMS include: improved employee performance and morale; cost savings and improved efficiency; improved relationships with regulators, neighbors, community members; lower insurance rates; market premiums, maintaining or obtaining market access, and, that it is a voluntary, management-driven process. Ultimately, the main goal of an Agricultural EMS is improved environmental performance through farmer initiated continuous improvement – utilizing site appropriate strategies and technologies.

Many industries, organizations, state and national governments now use and promote the EMS approach in an effort to move beyond the “command and control” approach to environmental protection.  The U.S. government, with Executive Order 13148 (, and the U.S. EPA ( have embraced the EMS approach, as have many state agencies, including Wisconsin’s Green Tier program (  Approximately 103,500 companies and organizations, including the world’s largest corporations, are currently ISO 14000 certified (  

Agricultural EMS has not seen widespread adoption in the U.S. farming community, although it has been piloted by various projects, including the USDA/CSREES/IUFAFS funded “Partnerships for Livestock Environmental Management Systems” ( Within the European community and the Australian continent, EMS in agriculture has been more extensively implemented and tested (Carruthers, 2006; Galan, et. al., 2006; Gunningham, 2006).

The European Union – through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – has sought to link farm subsidies to environmentally sound practices in farming. In order to do so, there has been concerted effort to develop tools to measure good farming practices, and to develop an environmental management approach. Galan and his colleagues evaluated several tools to measure environmental performance (Galan,, 2006).  Environmental indicators, as defined through a matrix of farm related activities (similar to our matrix of agriculture/environmental programs), provide the framework from which to evaluate farming practices. The tools that have been employed, despite difficulties in consistency in identifying relevant indicators and measurement practices, provide a benchmark from which farms can define priority actions and measure reductions in environmental impacts. These authors identify an important limitation to the current tools and management strategies in place: “Ranking environmental issues at the farm level should take into account environmental issues at a regional level” (p. 351). Rarely does farm environmental management take into account the specifics of a landscape or watershed, and work in concert with other producers within the geographical region. It is essential that local and regional environmental issues are identified as part of an EMS, in order that ranking of impacts at the farm level take into account broader societal goals.

Analysis of EMS implementation in Australia has also provided lessons for U.S. agriculture. Farmers in Australia have a particular interest in EMS, as their agriculture is heavily dependent on a strong export market (close to 80% of agricultural produce is exported), and as resource and environmental issues continue to mount. To protect the “clean green” image of Australian agriculture, and to meet demand chain pressure (that exerted by distributors and retailers), the Australian government has promoted voluntary EMS – calling on the industry to develop its own standards and practices (Gunningham, 2007). And to a certain degree, Australian farmers have succeeded in utilizing EMS. A 2006 study of Australian farms documents actual benefits (as related by farmers) realized as a result of implementation of the EMS:
- better understanding of the overall farm business,
- improved framework from which to manage risk,
- enhanced relationships with regulators and customers,
- ability to gain resources for on-farm resource management.
These benefits have led to market benefits as well. Having an ISO 14001 certified EMS enabled farmers to compete in international markets, as “having an EMS makes it easier to tell a story about the environmental attributes of a particular product.” Yet, as Carruthers points out, “It is not the EMS that is ‘sold’, it is the outcomes of EMS implementation, plus the credibility gained through third-party auditing of management systems to deliver outcomes that are regionally relevant” Carruthers, 2006: 40).

Is voluntary EMS sufficient? Gunningham (2006: pgs. 303-304), details why it is not. First, EMS is a process based standard that cannot guarantee actual improvements in environmental performance or outcomes. Second, farming operations have tended to commit to the system – and to invest resources in continuous improvement – only if they can realize economic benefit from doing so. Third, if actual environmental outcomes are not realized, EMS becomes nothing more than a greenwashing tool.  

Gunningham identifies a need to encourage farm enterprises to move toward sustainable practices with mechanisms that go beyond voluntary environmental management. He recommends a policy mix that includes regulation, economic incentives, education and information strategies, collective initiatives for self-regulation, and individual voluntarism.

Developing EMSs on Six Dairy Farms

The farmers in this project agreed to engage in the EMS process. Karl Hakanson acted as “EMS coach,” introducing each farm family to the process, and then locating resources and expertise, conducting research and data collection, and generally facilitating the development of the EMS. He also compiled, edited and reviewed the EMS documents and worksheets developed for each farm. The scaled-down EMS process used for this project was to:

(1) Conduct “Environmental Aspects Inventory” to identify priority issues;
(2) Prioritize two aspects to work on for this project; one energy-related;
(3) Assess current status of priorities;
(4) Develop objectives and plan of action to address and improve environmental performance;
(5) Implement plan, document actions, people involved, changes made, resources used; and
(6) Monitor and document results; continually look for ways to improve and get input.

Implementation of the EMS on the six farms tested whether:
(a) an EMS could serve as a complementary tool to other management approaches, and thus enhance current environmental management,
(b) an EMS would broaden the scope of environmental aspects considered and managed,
(c) farmers would engage with the process of EMS, especially planning, record keeping, monitoring and review, as they recognized the potential gains of implementing the procedure, and/or
(d) measurable environmental, operational or economic benefits resulted from engaging in the EMS process.

Environmental Aspects Inventory
Environmental Aspects are any element of a farm’s activities, products or services that can interact with the environment. The next step in the EMS process was to figure out which of the aspects to prioritize, recognizing that there are limits on farmers’ time and resources. Each farm was asked to choose two priority environmental aspects, with the stipulation that one of these aspects should be energy related (because our analysis of the approaches showed that none of the programs systematically address energy use and conservation directly, this ensured that each farm addressed an issue that was not specifically part of their environmental management scheme.) Priority issues identified by the farmers included:

Energy Priorities: milk house energy use; overall energy efficiency; dairy barn energy use; fuel use for row crop production; feasibility of wind power; less straw purchasing and handling in dairy barn.

Other Farm Priorities: reducing runoff in winter and spring pastures; improving worker safety and developing standard operating procedures in English and Spanish; update soil conservation and nutrient management plans; improve upland bird habitat for CSP tier 3; redirect milkhouse runoff; improve manure/compost management.

Phase 4:  Improve the viability of the EMS process to move all types of farms toward genuine sustainability.

Evaluation results from the study revealed that farmers perceived several short-term benefits of implementing the EMS:

(1) Attention to family and employee communications;
(2) Development of standard operating procedures and/or better organization of tasks and procedures;
(3) Creation of the environmental aspect inventory and priority setting allows farmers to systematically consider various aspects of environmental management;
(4) The assistance of a coach in identifying new management strategies or tools provided information to farmers who are busy with daily farm management, and may not have the time to research new ideas;
(5) Planning and documentation promoted consideration and evaluation of new strategies,
(6) The EMS encouraged communication with the community of residents and stakeholders and provided a vehicle for bringing multiple sources of knowledge and information to the farm;
(7) Some of the documentation required for an EMS is consistent with documentation and monitoring required for other programs (e.g., organic certification, holistic management, food alliance certification) or overlaps in specific categories (soil and water conservation plans, WPDES, managed grazing plans); and
(8) Consideration of energy conservation and efficiency. These aspects have not been considered systematically by other programs, yet are of increasing concern to farmers.

The analysis also highlighted barriers to implementation of the EMS:
(1) There is a considerable amount of documentation required in developing an EMS. For most farms, especially those that do not hire extra labor for administration, this extensive requirement for documentation is a significant barrier;
(2) There is no clear economic incentive to implementing the EMS, and thus it is hard for overworked farmers to justify the time commitment for documentation and monitoring;
(3) The role of the coach or consultant is extremely important as someone to move the process along and to follow up with research on particular environmental aspects. Yet, smaller scale farms typically do not have extra finances to invest in hiring outside consultants (without a short term economic gain to be realized by doing so);
(4) Farmers are already involved in one or more other environmental management programs, and the EMS appeared redundant; and
(5) Many of the priority environmental aspects that farmers identified were things that they intended to work on anyway, but which may not previously have ranked amongst the highest priority tasks, when balanced against other goals (e.g., production, marketing, economics, life-style).

In summary, evaluation of the EMS with the six pilot farms indicated that there are perceived benefits to the process – in particular, it prompts farmers to identify and prioritize environmental impacts and to consider improvements that might not have been on the planning agenda previously. However, the documentation and record keeping requirements are extensive, and this negates the likelihood of a wide range of farming operations making use of this management tool, at least as is outlined and promoted in most EMS programs and policies. Of note is that the current study, like the studies before it, found that the development of and implementation of the EMS is not scale-neutral. This is in part due to the fact that the basis of most EMS is the ISO 14000 protocol, which was designed with large corporations in mind, and to advance global trade. As noted in our 2006 project report, “A farm or business with many employees and a large community and environmental “footprint” fits the profile of organizations that typically engage in the EMS process,” (SARE project report, 3/2007). The challenge for EMS supporters is to develop means for small- and medium- scale operations to realize the benefits of an EMS, without being overburdened with record-keeping and documentation requirements.

Allen, Patricia.  1993.  Food for the Future.  Conditions and Contradictions of Sustainability.  Wiley & Sons, Inc, New York.

Bird, Elizabeth, Gordon Bultena, and John Gardner.  1995.  Planting the Future.  Developing an Agriculture that Sustains Land and Community.  Iowa State University Press, Ames.  

Buttel, Frederick H. 2003. “Internalizing the Societal Costs of Agricultural Production.” Pgs. 1656-1665 in Plant Physiology, Vol. 133: December.

Carruthers, Genevieve. 2006. “Outcomes of EMS Implementation on Australian Farms.” Pgs. 33-45 in Farm Policy Journal, Vol. 3, No. 4: November.

Feenstra, Gail, Chuck Ingels, and David Campbell.  1997. What is Sustainable Agriculture?  U.C. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, University of California, Davis, CA.

Foltz, Jeremy D. and Alan Turnquist. 2006. The Status of Working Lands in Wisconsin: Current Trends and Future Policies. PATS Research Report No. 18, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Program on Agricultural Technology Studies: October.

Galan, M.B., D. Preschard, H. Boizard. 2007. “ISO 14 001 at the farm level: Analysis of five methods for evaluating the environmental impact of agricultural practices.” Pgs. 341-352 in Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 82, Issue 3: February.

Gunningham, Neil. 2007. “Incentives to improve farm management: EMS, supply-chains and civil society.” Pgs. 302-301 in Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 82, Issue 3: February.

Horne, James & Maura McDermott. 2001.  The Next Green Revolution Essential Steps to a Healthy, Sustainable Agriculture.  Food Production Press, Binghamton, NY.  

Legg, Wilfrid, and Kevin Parris, 2007. “Farm Management and the Environment, Editorial” Pgs. 299-301 in Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 82, Issue 3: February.

Lockeretz. William (ed.).  1997.  Visions of American Agriculture.  Iowa State University Press, Ames.

MacRae, Rod, Stuart Hill, John Henning, and Alison Bentley.  1990.  “Policies, programs, and regulations to support the transition to sustainable agriculture in Canada.”  American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 5(2): 76-92.  

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program Brochure.  No Date.  “Exploring Sustainability in Agriculture.”  

Welsh, Rick and Thomas Lyson. No date (circa 1994). “The Management Question in Sustainable Agriculture.” Department of Rural Sociology, Cornell University.

Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service. 2006. Overview report available on-line at:

Research conclusions:

Suggested Modifications to the EMS

The project team proposes integration of the positive aspects of EMS into existing programs, such as those analyzed in our study. Many of the strengths of EMS are process strengths – the strategies employed to assure consideration of and action on a wide range of environmental aspects of farming. EMS process tools emphasize record keeping and monitoring of environmental impacts, identification of indicators to show improvement in environmental performance, engaging a community process and dialogue, and continuous improvement. These process elements can be incorporated into training programs already being utilized by regulators, certifiers, extension educators, and other consultants working to support farmers and the farm economy.

A promising avenue for future development of EMS is in the context of the six agricultural management approaches we studied. An EMS could complement these programs by providing a system to assess environmental aspects that are not currently covered in these programs.

By “marrying” the EMS with existing programs, farmers can benefit from the strengths of both, with less demand on their time and resources. Existing programs have economic incentives built into them, whether market based (e.g., certification or labeling that allows farmers to market their products as specialty products), regulatory (such as the WPDES), or eligibility for federal cost sharing programs (e.g., soil and water conservation and/or natural resources programs such as CSP, EQIP, CRP, etc.). Because these programs are well established, farmers know about them, and know how to get the information they need to participate. Those who are participating have already established personal relationships with the personnel administering these programs (e.g., DNR regulators, county-based soil and water conservationists, certifiers, H.M. trainers). These personal relationships are critical for successful implementation of innovations or environmental management requirements. Program staff of existing programs could offer EMS components to their clientele, and could serve as “coaches” for EMS planning activities.

The Environmental Management Systems Guidebook for Wisconsin Farmers developed through the PLEMS project is a self-contained environmental assessment system. This guidebook could be retrofitted to a three ring binder system with sections on specific aspects of a farming operation. In order to reduce the paperwork required for an EMS, coaches would use specific sections of the EMS handbook as an “add-on” to the regulatory or certification documents already being used for other programs. In this way, environmental aspects that are already covered through other existing programs would not be duplicated, and farmers would not be overwhelmed with a large, bureaucratic process.

We feel that the assistance of a “coach” in EMS is essential. The coach could be any agricultural services person trained in how to develop an EMS and familiar with the resources (information, cost-sharing programs, technologies, agronomic practices, experts) available to farmers. Potentially, farm management consultants could provide EMS coaching services to farmers. Good environmental management is all part of good financial and business management.

A critical challenge for EMS promoters is to develop concrete economic benefits to utilization of EMS. For example, if insurance reductions or cost sharing for improvements were available, farmers would find rationale to hire a consultant/coach to help with the process. Similarly, if there were a market incentive, such as supply chain demand for certification that is associated with enhanced environmental performance, this would stimulate interest in EMS. Alternatively, Extension Agents could fulfill the EMS coaching function, and thus provide the service for free or at significantly lower costs.

The intent and practice of EMS can be communicated to farmers by group means, in addition to the relationship with a coach. Both holistic management and managed grazing farmer networks make use of group teaching/learning strategies, including group discussions, farm walks, or networking meetings. These adult-learning strategies could be utilized to discuss environmental aspects of farming. For many adult learners, examples are often more powerful than checklists (such as those provided through the EMS tool). Farmers can learn of new ideas and innovation (especially in the area of energy conservation) through sharing stories and experiences, farmer networks and field days, and other means whereby groups of people are discussing, evaluating, and assessing impacts together.

In the context of existing environmental programs, an EMS “supplement” can highlight the importance of commitment to environmental quality, internal and external communications, consideration of community impacts, and management for continual improvement, using the tools developed for EMS: the environmental policy statement, the environmental aspects inventory, and priority setting exercises – all of which are identified strengths of the EMS system.

Economic Analysis

Sound farm environmental management will result in economic benefit as well as environmental improvement, but to date it is difficult to quantify the hard dollar benefit of environmental improvement. Implementation of a voluntary environmental management system (EMS) is a planning and monitoring tool. While there was no requirement that environmental priorities identified be addressed as part of the research protocol, most of the farmers in this study did follow through on their priorities by implementing one or more improvements. The initial costs to make these improvements do not have immediate payback – indeed, some of the improvements are unrelated to production (for example, development of wildlife habitat, redirecting milkhouse runoff, updating soil conservation plans, developing standard operating procedures, installation of a plate cooler, spring improvement) and thus it would be difficult to impute an economic value to the improvement. However, these environmental improvements have value in that they improve overall management, animal health and comfort, long term soil and water quality, and the like. Improved environmental management results in long term production potential, better aesthetics, and health benefits for humans and livestock.

With regard to energy conservation and efficiency, farmer collaborators recognized that initial investments would have a medium to long-term payoff. With energy costs rising and increased awareness about greenhouse gases/climate change, farmers are striving to improve the energy efficiency of their farming operations and to reduce their carbon footprint. EMS provides a farmer driven assessment of energy use, which, when coupled with a technical analysis from an energy consultant, can lead to technological or agronomic changes in the farming operation.

Farmer Adoption

Follow-up conversations with several of the farmers involved in the study indicated that these farmers found the process of developing an environmental management system useful, and that they continue to benefit from the changes they made to the farming operation. Some of the process suggestions within the EMS were adopted and continued: for instance, development of standard operating procedures and their translation into Spanish. However, these farmers have not yet resolved to use the EMS as a ‘living tool’ – one that is continually consulted, modified, and shared with others on the farm and involved in the farm.

More telling than continued utilization of the EMS is that the farmers involved with our study have not become strong, public advocates of EMS. To the best of our knowledge, they have not promoted EMS as a necessary or important tool with others in their farming network. EMS, despite several attempts at promotion state-wide, has caught on only minimally, and when there are incentives linked to its utilization. Incentives can be of several types: economic incentives that come from cost savings or cost sharing; regulatory flexibility incentives from increased ease of dealing with regulations and/or government regulatory institutions; and certification/market based incentives that lead to consumer recognition of improved practices. Examples of how the implementation of EMS is tied to incentives include:

1) Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin (PNAAW): in collaboration with UW-Extension, the PNAAW trains and certifies member firms. Three levels of training promote progressively improved management skills. For the third level of certification, business owners need an EMS plan. Those who complete the third level of certification receive cost incentives through reduced insurance rates. Insurance auditors evaluate each firm’s EMS to ensure compliance. Those who meet the standards can receive up to 50 percent off environmental liability premiums and up to 40 percent off on other insurance costs, excluding health and Workers Compensations costs (;

2) Green Tier Program of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Wisconsin’s “Green Tier” is a voluntary program that encourages businesses of all types to develop environmental management practices beyond regulatory compliance and minimum standards. Participating businesses must have an ISO-14001 certified or a “functionally equivalent” Environmental Management System (EMS) in place and must document their results. Businesses participating in Green Tier realize tangible benefits through streamlined environmental requirements, regulatory flexibility, lower transaction costs, shared responsibility for environmental performance, and public recognition – which can increase marketing possibilities. Companies are encouraged to use innovative methods to improve environmental performance while boosting productivity, cutting costs, and growing their business (

Green Tier has, thus far, certified numerous businesses at various ‘tiers’ of performance, but only one of these is a farming operation. The program is currently working with the Dairy Business Association to increase the number of farms engaged in the program. Each of these farms will be required to develop an EMS. The Green Tier program – through collaborating agreements – will provide coaching support to participating farms.

The lesson derived from our study, in addition to nascent efforts to promote voluntary environmental management through EMS, is that – while there are environmental and business benefits to be gained through systematic environmental management – the process must be supported with flexibility, coaching, an incentive structure, and development of streamlined, easy to use EMS tools. Widespread adoption of any new practice takes years of outreach, education, and practice improvement. With regard to voluntary environmental management systems, practitioners must recognize the barriers to adoption, and must adjust program implementation to minimize these barriers. Our study conclusions agree with those of Gunningham (2007), in calling for a mix of policies to encourage improved environmental management – a mix that supports farmer-driven assessment and analysis, but which is backed by economic incentives and regulations to protect commons resources.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:


1. Ingram, Mrill. 2006. Personal, Community and Biophysical Dimensions of Six Environmental Sustainability Programs on Dairy Farms in the U.S. Midwest. American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting. Chicago, IL. March 9.

2. Hakanson, Karl. 2006. Applicability of the Environmental Management System (EMS) for Wisconsin Growers. Wisconsin Potato and Vegetables Growers Association annual meeting, Stevens Point, WI.

3. Hakanson, Karl. 2006. The Ag EMS Process and the Many Facets of Sustainability. UW Madison Agro-Ecology Seminar on SARE.

4. Ingram, M., B. Bland & K. Hakanson. 2006. An Analysis of Environmental Management Approaches with Six Midwestern Dairy Farms: Informing Progress Toward a Sustainable Agriculture. USDA-SARE annual conference.

Outreach Materials:

1. Ingram, Mrill. 2007. Website development. An Analysis of Environmental Management Approaches with Six Midwestern Dairy Farms: Informing Progress Toward a Sustainable Agriculture. Includes the matrix, “A Farmers’ guide to sustainability,” video presentation, power point presentation, project reports, and project poster.

2. Ingram, Mrill, K. Hakanson, and S. Lezberg. 2007. “Lessons learned about the utilization of environmental management systems (EMS) on six case study Wisconsin farms.” Environmental Resources Center.

3. Ingram, Mrill, K. Hakanson, and S. Lezberg. 2007. Power point presentation. “An Analysis of Environmental Management Approaches with Six Midwestern Dairy Farms: Informing Progress Toward a Sustainable Agriculture”. Environmental Resources Center.

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

There are two areas that warrant additional study:
(1) Improving the ease of adoption of agricultural EMS: The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ “Green Tier” program provides a case study to evaluate the opportunities and barriers to utilization of EMS for improved farm environmental performance. Evaluation of the incentive structure attached to Green Tier participation can provide insight into how to make use of EMS more widespread. Additionally, the program offers opportunity to test whether the EMS – through flexibility and adaptation – can be made scale-neutral.

(2) Linking use of farmer driven EMS to improving energy efficiency and energy conservation: Project staff have been exploring the potential of utilizing EMS tools, in combination with an on-line energy assessment tool (which has been developed by ERC in conjunction with Biological Systems Engineering Department and the “Focus on Energy” program). Farmer assessment of on-farm agronomic/environmental aspects, in combination with hard data for energy assessment and expert advise in interpreting this data, could produce a robust decision-making technique to move farmers toward greater energy efficiency. Farmer decision-making tools can incorporate agronomic variables that a technical energy assessment might overlook. For example, energy assessments might suggest modification/upgrading of barn or milkshed equipment. Farmer assessment of energy usage might suggest changes in crops grown (feed mix) to reduce tillage; changes in animal husbandry (increasing pasture and grazing); modifications to milking structures; or a combination of agronomic and equipment alterations.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.