Sustainability indicators from financial data?

ORC and IBERS researchers have been looking at Farm Business Survey results to see if we can we compare environmental performance of organic and conventional farms using the financial data.

The environmental impact of agriculture is an area of increasing concern, yet a difficult one to measure. At present there are nationwide surveys of the financial state of farms (such as the Farm Business Survey) but no equivalent approach to monitoring environmental impact. ORC and IBERS researchers have now looked at analysing existing surveys and financial data as a method to provide indirect indicators of farms’ environmental performance. For example, looking at the Farm Business Survey, could the cost of fertiliser per hectare indicate the use of fertilisers? Or the sum of fertiliser cost, pesticide cost, and purchased concentrate cost be used as an intensification indicator?

Could this data be used to show changes in environmental performance over time and compared across the EU? Further, could this financial data be used to compare data between conventional and organic farms?

Using data from the Farm Business Survey (FBS), ORC research concludes yes to some of the above questions, but with limitations.

The comparison of organic with conventional FBS data in the UK suggests that organic farms have lower fertiliser and crop protection costs (as would be expected) but that differences in feed costs, stocking density and cropping diversity were dependent upon farm type.

As the data is only collected for financial reasons, there is limited information available for measuring environmental factors such as biodiversity levels. The analysis is also limited by using costs as a proxy for physical amounts. More accurate input indicators could derived if the survey included physical quantities e.g. of fertilisers and concentrates.

Certain indicators could also be looked at on an EU levels through their use within the Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN), which collates farm economic data across the EU. This was a focus of the FACEPA project , with some results presented in Bulletin 105 .

Read the journal article by Catherine Gerrard and Susanne Padel of ORC and Simon Moakes of IBERS, Aberystwyth

Gerrard, C.L., Moakes, S., Padel, S. (2012). The use of Farm Business Survey data to compare the environmental performance of organic and conventional farms , International Journal of Agricultural Management, 2:5-16.

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