Biological, Financial, and Social Monitoring to Develop Highly Sustainable Farming Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1994: $50,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $307,736.00
ACE Funds: $50,000.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
George Boody
Land Stewardship Project

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: pasture fertility, grazing - rotational, feed/forage
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study
  • Natural Resources/Environment: riparian buffers
  • Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures


    The Monitoring Team completed a third year of research and education designed to test a process of on-farm observation and interaction that brings together farmers and other professionals. The Team of 24 people combines agricultural disciplines, ecology, rural sociology, hydrogeology and the perspectives of farmers, agency officials, researchers, consultants and non-profit staff. The project has focused on farms in transition to Management Intensive Grazing (MIG).

    In 1996, the Team: collected analytical data on the six team farms and paired farms (nearby farms with similar soils or stream reaches); documented farmer observations; and tested selected on-farm indicators. For example, the Team collected soils data from 54 permanent plots sited on the six team farms and five paired farms. In addition, in-field comparisons led to identification of five soil monitoring tools to be included a monitoring tool box. Breeding bird and breeding frog and toad counts were conducted by volunteers and farm families. Information was collected from streams on four team farms and three paired sites on the same or adjacent streams.

    Several preliminary findings suggest that MIG has broad ecosystem and socio-economic benefits. Rested paddocks show promise as nesting sites and cover for endangered grassland bird species. MIG stations on two streams improved chemical, physical and biological parameters when compared to continuously grazed stations. A set of four economic indicators of sustainability show that the advantages of grazing go beyond profitability.

    We are developing a "tool box" of monitoring indicators that can be used by farmers to see if they are making progress toward their goals. The tool box will contain narrative and visual aids from all the research areas and will encourage farmers to use a holistic management process. The Team will produce a prototype tool box by February 1997 that will be evaluated next year on at least 10 farms not associated with the existing Team.

    The Team held five field days from June to September, involving a total of 240 people. Two articles were written in reference to the project in major popular publications. One article was accepted for scientific publication and at least 29 presentations were given by Team members since January 1996. Dick Levin's publication, Monitoring Sustainable Agriculture With Conventional Financial Data, has been distributed to more than 440 people.

    The following report includes objectives, specific project results, outreach, potential contributions and practical applications, economic analysis, farmer adoption and direct impact, producer involvement and areas needing further study. This project was funded through both ACE (LWF 62-016-03022) and SARE (LWF 62-016-03144). Several objectives were funded from both sources and selected work elements received funding from only one source. This section of the report is being submitted for both ACE and SARE. Funding sources are identified within the section on specific project results.

    Project objectives:

    The objectives stated in the original proposal were to:

    1.Develop indicators of ecosystem health that can be easily used by farmers.

    2.Assess social and economic well-being of farms implementing MIG.

    3.Implement and evaluate a new model for designing agricultural research.

    4.Promote the use of participatory, inclusive, whole-systems approaches in other research.

    5.Engage the alumni of LSP's "Introduction to Holistic Resource Management" (HRM) seminars in an on-going discussion.

    6.Disseminate information to farmers and policy makers about the use of biological monitoring and MIG.

    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.