Research projects

Public Goods Tool

Public Goods Tool

Acronym : PG tool

Contract Period : 01/07/2010 - 31/03/2011

Main Funder : DEFRA through Natural England

ORC Staff Contact : Lisa Arguile

The OCIS public goods project produced a tool which is designed to provide a simple, measurable and accessible way to show the ‘Public Goods’ that accrue through organic farming systems and the addition of an OELS agreement.

Project Aims:

The project aimed to produce an excel-based tool which can be used to assess the public goods provided on a farm. These are split into separate areas of public good:

  • Soil management,
  • Biodiversity,
  • Landscape and heritage,
  • Water management,
  • Manure management and nutrients,
  • Energy and carbon,
  • Food security,
  • Agricultural systems diversity,
  • Social capital,
  • Farm business resilience,
  • Animal health and welfare.

The tool provides a clear, easy-to-follow results page which a farmer can use to identify areas where there is potential for improvement and areas where the farm is above average.

ORC's Role:

ORC undertook the entire project.

Key Achievements:

The project developed the Public Goods Tool, which is a comprehensive sustainability assessment tool for farming systems. It offers a rapid and succinct overview of a farm’s performance, using a range of environmental, economic and social indicators. The tool can be used to identify areas for improvement and monitor changes over time. The assessment process is carried out with an advisor or researcher, with readily available sources of data being used to save time/avoid duplication of effort. The advisory focus of the tools facilitates a dialogue between the assessor and the farmer assessed. This allows for the identification of possible solutions to issues highlighted. The assessment process can also draw attention to the positive contributions a farm is making to society, above and beyond the food and other products leaving the farm gate.

Positive feedback from farmers and advisors involved in the pilot

“An assessment can really help give validity to what you’re doing and help you to focus on what you need to look at next or where there’s potential for doing something new”.

“It brings out stuff that is at the back of your mind to the forefront.”

“It has been a really useful exercise and I would encourage others to take advantage of it”

Next steps

A number of developments are planned for the coming years

  • The tool is also used within the SOLID research project to compare the performance of farms with regard to individual indicators (e.g. energy use or nutrients). See SOLID D11 report
  • We are working with the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), pooling our expertise to further develop methods for sustainability assessment and monitoring for organic farms.Ekhaga Sustainability Assessment
  • The use of the tools for Scottish conditions is currently explored by researchers from SRUC
  • Aberystwyth University will be involved in the use and development of the tool in Wales
  • The tool is being used within a TSB funded forage protein project that is working with Waitrose dairy, beef and lamb supply chains to encourage farmers to produce higher protein forage crops, reducing their reliance on external soya imports. More here
  • Development of system specific benchmarks for (organic and non-organic) farming systems, particularly with regard to nutrient budgeting and energy use
  • On-farm validation of the assessment results (e.g. through soil sampling, biodiversity assessment)
  • Weighting of the spurs included within the tool by location and/or farmer preference

Following the pilot, Defra commented that to make the tool as useful as possible in the wider farming context some of the questions should be modified to remove the focus on organic farms and to ensure that scoring is not weighted in favour of organic farming. ORC has undertaken to make the necessary modifications to the tool and now plans to carry out further testing of the tool on 35 conventional farms (spread across a range of farm types: cereals, dairy, general cropping, beef and sheep, mixed) in Spring 2014.


Gerrard, C.L., Smith, L.G., Padel, S., Pearce, B., Hitchings, R., Measures, M., Cooper, N., (2011), OCIS Public Goods Tool Development, Report for Defra.

Anon (2014) Application of the public goods tool on conventional farms. Final report to Defra OF0398.


Marchand F, Debruyne L, Triste L, Gerrard C, Padel S, Lauwers L. 2014. Key characteristics for tool choice in indicator-based sustainability assessment at farm level. Ecology & Society. 19:3.

Gerrard C, Smith L, Pearce B, Padel S, Hitchings R and Measures M., 2012 Public goods and farming. In: Farming for food and water security, 10. Sustainable Agriculture Reviews, no. 8380. Springer, Dodrecht Heidelberg New York London, pp. 1-22.

Smith, L.G., Padel, S., Pearce, B., Lampkin, N., Gerrard, C., Woodward, L., Fowler, S., and Measures, M., 2011. Assessing the public goods provided by organic agriculture: lessons learned from practice, in The third scientific conference of ISOFAR: Organic is life – knowledge for tomorrow, Neuhoff, D., Halberg, N., Rasmussen, I.A., Hermansen, J., Ssekyewa, C., and Mok, S., Editors: Namyangju, Republic of Korea. p. 59-63.

Project Output:

Previous Relevant Work:

EASI Programme (PDF 107KB)