Sustainability indicators as management tools to guide farmers, scientists, policy makers and the general public

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $250,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Jon Brandt
North Carolina State University

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: cabbages, sweet potatoes


  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, transitioning to organic
  • Sustainable Communities: public participation, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The SARE program has now been in place for sixteen years. Excellent research results have been obtained from both component studies and also long-term systems projects. Still there has been little attempt to relate what we are learning back to the guiding concept of ’sustainability’. At the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, N.C. we have a unique systems experiment where we have collected a wide range of parameters since 1998. Using these data as a starting point, we now seek to develop an approach to relate our data to long-term agricultural sustainability. Crucial to this approach is that the development and selection of sustainability indicators needs to be integrated with the research of improved farming systems and with input from farmers and other stakeholders. The proposed project will enable an integrated evaluation of all the data collected at CEFS and is a logical step toward the assessment of sustainability of the various agricultural systems under study. A comprehensive list of attributes of economic, social and ecological sustainability will first be identified and then ranked by using the perceptions of different stakeholder and experts. Data collected at CEFS will be used to quantify the selected indicators. Next, graphical and numerical comparisons will be employed for an overall assessment and evaluation that can be adapted to natural conditions and socio-institutional constraints.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    • To derive a manageable set of indicators to evaluate the environmental, biological, social and economic aspects of sustainability of organic, BMP, conventional and integrated farming at the system and enterprise (crop/rotation, animal activity) level. To process data on selected sustainability indicators and to collect additional data on specific sustainability indicators for which insufficient information is available from existing projects at CEFS. To select and refine a tool for bringing together the various indicators of sustainability in a single picture that shows where progress is made.
    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.