The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) has published a guide for monitoring the sustainability of a farm. "Monitoring Sustainable Agriculture with Conventional Financial Data" by Dick Levins , is the first in a series based on the work of the Biological, Social and Financial Monitoring Team. For the past three years, LSP and its partners on the monitoring team have been experimenting with various ways farmers can measure their progress toward sustainability.
Monitoring sustainability using conventional financial indicators can be difficult. Farmers normally think of using income and expense figures to measure progress toward the goals of earning profits, says Levins, a monitoring team member and University of Minnesota agricultural economist. Like any producer, sustainable farmers are concerned about feeding their families and paying bills. But they also want to protect the land, improve their quality of life and enhance the communities they live in. To be sustainable, farm progress must be defined as movement toward a set of goals that include, but are not limited to, profitability, he says.
In this 30-page publication, Levins presents four indicators to evaluate the sustainability of farming operations: reliance on government programs; use of equipment, chemicals and non-renewable energy; creation of jobs; and balance between feed use and feed production. Using farm records or tax reports, farmers can transfer numbers to work sheets provided in the book, and thus evaluate their sustainability.