2000-2002: Application of the national sustainable agriculture indicators to farm level (Ref. NT1855)

In 2000, Defra (then MAFF) published a pilot set of sustainability indicators to provide a means of measuring the economic, social and environmental impacts of agriculture in Great Britain and to help assess the effectiveness of policies and the sustainability of the sector. As policy tools, many of the indicators are highly technical in nature and/or relevant only at regional or national level. Few have direct, close links with on-farm management decisions and some are not directly measurable on farm. There is no breakdown of the indicator values for differing farm types nor geographical demarcation. Consequently, attempts to persuade farmers to take note and respond to messages provided by the indicator trends, were likely to hindered. However, changes at farm level are required before improvements at national level will be seen.

This Defra funded project, carried out in collaboration with LEAF, sought to address this issue by describing the National Indicators at farm level using a variety of techniques (including disaggregation, harmonisation and use of surrogate indicators). A simple software tool was developed for farmers, known as FarmSmart, which stands for indicators of sustainable agriculture that are Farm Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. FarmSmart collated relevant farm level information to identify appropriate indicator values for a specific farm types and locations and presented the information within a farm management context. Consequently, farmers were provided with information to help them select indicators relevant to their situation, assess their performance and take practical steps for improvements where required.

The project also included a significant amount of awareness raising to promote the concept and objectives of the pilot national and farm level indicators including farm workshops and the production of an audio cassette (available here as an MP3 file) introducing the concepts of sustainability and the use of indicators.


  • van der Werf, H.M.G., Tzilivakis, J., Lewis, K.A. & Basset-Mens, C. (2007). Environmental impacts of farm scenarios according to five assessment methods. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 118, 327-338.
  • Tzilivakis, J. & Lewis, K.A. (2004). The development and use of farm level indicators in England. Sustainable Development 12, 107-120.
  • Green, A., Lewis, K.A., Tzilivakis, J. & Warner, D.J. (2002). Indicators of agricultural sustainability - are they relevant to grassland management? Proceedings of the British Grassland Society Winter Conference - Profitable Grass and Forage: Meeting the needs of the farmer and sosciety. 27-28 November 2002, Stafford, UK. The British Grassland Society, Reading, UK.


Dr Andy Green


           Which way to sustainability?Play the MP3 file: Which way to sustainability?

University of Hertfordshire
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