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

2005 Annual Report for LS05-178

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

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


At the Center for Environmental Farming System at NC State we have a unique systems experiment where we have collected a wide range of parameters since 1998. Using these data as a starting point, our project seeks to develop an approach to relate our data back to the guiding concept of agricultural sustainability.
A comprehensive list of attributes of economic, social and ecological sustainability has been identified since the project started in June 2005. The next step is to rank these attribites by using the perceptions of different stakeholders 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. Additional co-operators in this project are: Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Rural Advancement Foundation International and a farmer panel.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  • To derive a manageable set of indicators to evaluate the environmental, biological and financial aspects of sustainability of organic, BMP, conventional and integrated farming at the system and enterprise (crop/rotation, animal activity) level.

    To collect additional data on specific sustainability indicators for which insufficient information is available from existing projects at CEFS.

    To develop a tool for bringing together various indicators of sustainability in a single picture that shows at a glance where progress is made.


The theoretical sustainability model to be used in the project was presented at the quarterly project meeting October 2005. The model was approved at the quarterly meeting March 2006.
A comprehensive list of attributes of economic, social and ecological sustainability has been identified.
We are now working on the set of indicators for each attribute. For this we work with separate (focus)groups for the ecological, social and economic component of sustainability.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

External Evaluator’s report

TO: Dr. Ada Wossink
Principal Investigator
FR: Dr. Rita O’Sullivan
O’Sullivan & Associates
502 1/2 Dogwood Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Project Evaluation Update June – December 2005:
“Sustainability Indicators as Management Tools to Guide Farmers, Scientists, Policy Makers, and the General Public”.

Based on review of the documents made available to me, attendance at the project committee meeting in October 2005, and the interactions with you and the other project members, I believe that your SARE-funded project met its timetable for the first half of it’s first year.

The two major tasks for June – December 2005 were identified as:

• Continuous data collection at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and
• Preliminary outline of sustainability attributes

I know that the data collection at CEFS has been on-going and our discussion of the preliminary outline of sustainability attributes at the October meeting demonstrated good progress toward that task. The preliminary taxonomy that was reviewed and modified in October 2005 demonstrated a solid foundation in the current literature and appeared to set the stage for subsequent refinement.

According to the evaluation plan we reviewed at the October meeting and discussed, I will conduct a focus group with participants during the Spring meeting to ascertain how the project is unfolding.


J. Paul Mueller

[email protected]
North Carolina State University
Dept of Crop Science
Campus Box 7620
Raleigh, NC 27695-7620
Office Phone: 9195157889
John O'Sullivan

[email protected]
North Carolina A & T State University
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Prgram
P.O. Box 21928
Greensboro, NC 27420
Office Phone: 3363347957
Olha Sydorovych

[email protected]
North Carolina State University
Dept Agricultural & Resource Economics
Campus Box 8109
Raleigh, NC 27695-8109
Office Phone: 9195130185
Cavell Brownie

[email protected]
North Carolina State University
Dept. of Statistics
Campus Box 8203
Raleigh , NC 27695-8203
Office Phone: 9195151935