ADAS studies farm performance indicators to help drive Sustainable Intensification monitoring

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ADAS has published a paper, as part of a wider consortium1  funded by Defra, exploring possible indicators that can be used to measure sustainable intensification in farming. Data was collected from 59 English and Welsh farms, using a questionnaire structured to allow it to be used for international performance monitoring2.

ADAS studies farm performance indicators to help drive Sustainable Intensification monitoring

Farm performance was measured across four dimensions; production, social, financial, and environmental. A long list of potential indicators was reduced to a smaller subset of Headline Indicators. The process of reduction reflected the availability and reliability of data, the data needs in terms of covering all aspects of sustainable intensification, and the requirement to be measurable at the farm level. The indicators include:

  • Farm description; farm type, and virtual farm area (ha) 
  • Financial performance; profitability, and reliance on farm sales for income
  • Production; quantity of production (in terms of energy content), and animal welfare and quality assurance
  • Social characteristics; farmer age, farmer education, farm labor (hours), investment in training (hours), engagement with other farmers, and provision of social goods such as public access
  • Environmental quality; impact on climate regulation, impacts on air and water quality, and biodiversity

The paper highlighted that there is currently no consensus indicator for farmland biodiversity suitable for farm‐scale studies that can be obtained solely from records of land use and farm management, therefore the new indicator was created to fill this gap. The biodiversity indicator gave points for interventions and management practises such as root crops, arable field boundaries and livestock rough grazing. These categories were weighted in order to prevent the scores for certain types of farms being systematically higher, such as for larger farms. The indicator was then validated using bird data collected from a separate sample of English farms. 

The report suggests that in order to measure the changes in sustainable intensification the indicators must be used to measure a large sample of farms over time. The importance of promoting and preserving biodiversity must also not be lost. Despite the ADAS study finding no significant links between biodiversity and productivity or profitability, there is contradictory evidence elsewhere suggesting the benefits to farming of increased biodiversity (Pywell et al., 2015). 

The development and reviewing of these indicators for sustainable intensification identifies a way of measuring farms over time3 to indicate the resilience of farm performance to external change, as well as identify how farms can improve food security through their relationships to potential drivers of productivity.

Find out more

If you would like any more information on the work ADAS has completed on sustainable intensification or monitoring and evaluation, please contact John Elliott, Head of Economics & Policy Evaluation. You can read the full article here .

[1] University of Leeds, RSPB, University of Nottingham

[2] Similar to the UK Farm Business Survey and that could be integrated with the EU Farm Accountancy Data Network’s (FADN) routine farm performance data collection.

[3] Using an extension of FADN

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