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  • Currently known as: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems Title history
    American Journal of Alternative Agriculture, Volume 9, Issue 1-2
  • June 1994, pp. 45-50

A framework for evaluating the sustainability of agricultural production systems

  • C. O. Stockle (a1), R.I. Papendick (a2), K.E. Saxton (a2), G.S. Campbell (a3) and F.K. van Evert (a3)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 30 October 2009

Sustainable agriculture has gained acceptance as a conceptual approach for shaping farming systems of the future. All definitions of sustainable agriculture include food productivity, food safety, resource protection, quality of life and environmental quality. However, the sustainability of a wide range of farming systems has been judged only subjectively. Currently there are no scientific criteria to evaluate the sustainability of a specific farming system. We propose a framework for evaluating the relative sustainability of a farming system using nine attributes: profitability, productivity, soil quality, water quality, air quality, energy efficiency, fish and wildlife habitat, quality of life, and social acceptance. Each attribute is scored and then weighted in a way that is subjective and dependent on the judgment of the evaluating team, but that must be expressed numerically. The scoring must be based on quantifiable constraints within each attribute. Constraints can be quantified by direct measurement, which is already true for those related to profitability, productivity, water quality and energy efficiency. Constraints that are not readily measurable will need other evaluation techniques, including expert opinion and computer simulation models.

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2.R.E. Dunlap , C.E. Beus , R.E. Howell , and J. Waud . 1992. What is sustainable agriculture? An empirical examination of faculty and farmer definitions. J. Sustainable Agric. 3:539.

3.C.B. Flora 1992. Building sustainable agriculture: A new application of farming systems research and extension. J. Sustainable Agric. 2:3749.

5.D. Neher 1992. Ecological sustainability in agricultural systems: Definition and measurement. J. Sustainable Agric. 2:5161.

8.R. Senanayake 1991. Sustainable agriculture: Definitions and parameters for measurement. J. Sustainable Agric. 1:728.

9.D.C. Taylor 1990. On-farm sustainable agriculture research: Lessons from the past, directions for the future. J. Sustainable Agric. 1:4387.

12.G.A. Youngs , G.A. Goreham , and D.L. Watt . 1991. Classifying conventional and sustainable farmers: Does it matter how you measure? J. Sustainable Agric. 2:91115.

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American Journal of Alternative Agriculture
  • ISSN: 0889-1893
  • EISSN: 1478-5498
  • URL: /core/journals/american-journal-of-alternative-agriculture
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