Sustainability indicators

INSPIA aims to provide for farmers a European index about sustainable productive agriculture based on monitoring different types of indicators – basically economic, social and environmental indicators – since this is what needs to be balanced to achieve sustainability. The indicators are tools to assess the status of sustainability, especially to highlight what needs to be changed to enhance sustainability. In this regard, society can help through enabling legislation, since the outcomes farmers need to achieve are also needed by society as a whole.

INSPIA believes that indicators need to be essentially based on what farmers do in practice to farm the land. Hence, INSPIA promotes a range of Best Management Practices (BMPs) that have been demonstrated to improve the farmed environment for biodiversity, as well as protect and enhance soil, water and air quality on which productivity relies. Calculating the index values for each indicator is mostly based BMP implementation and the consequences for farmers, e.g. how much time or money it took to implement, or the impact on crop yields. However, INSPIA also recognizes that index values in other indicator systems use rely more on monitoring, particularly for biodiversity and water quality. Monitoring has thus been included where feasible, particularly for general public monitoring, e.g. of water quality. Farm specific monitoring is limited to what is economically possible for farmers, so it includes some soil and nutrient monitoring, but not monitoring the numbers of birds and bees, or water quality, to ensure that INSPIA can be a widely used indicator system on farms across Europe.

With such a set of indicators, the index values are actively influenced by farmers. The values range from the lowest to the highest, depending on what farmers do in practice. An optimal set of index values is a set of uniformly high values. A high average score, but which includes very low values on some indicators, is suboptimal and not sustainable, even though there are steps in the right direction. INSPIA wants to re-vitalize how farmers think about sustainability. INSPIA believes farmers want to know more about how to integrate the use of technology (which all farming systems use, including organic ones) with the use of ecosystem services, as the overall focus and direction needed for achieving sustainable productive agriculture.

For each type of indicator, they are focused on selected key outcomes, particularly environmental ones as key to achieving sustainable productive agriculture, as shown below:

Economic – Profit/production Efficiency

  • Net income per hectare

    The net farm income is calculated by substracting the expenses from the gross output that occurred during a specified accounting period. In fact, this will be, with slight differences, the concept used for the measurement of the net income of the producers.
  • Net income per annual work unit (AWU) of labor

    It is the income obtained per work unit of labor. It indicates which crops and management are more efficient in the use of labor.
  • Production cost per hectare

    It is the value of intermediate consumption or variable production costs related to agricultural activity include seeds, fertilizers, energy, labor costs, etc.
  • Yield

    It means the amount of crop yield in tonnes per hectare, and it is expressed in tonnes of dry matter per ha for each crop. The total area considered is the utilised agricultural area (UAA).
  • N productivity

    N productivity represents the crop yield (kg) per N applied (kg).
  • P productivity

    P productivity represents the crop yield (kg)per P applied (kg), expressed as P2O5.
  • Irrigation water application

    Irrigation water application is the controlled application of water (m3/ha) for agricultural purposes through manmade systems to supply water requirements not satisfied by rainfall.
  • Water productivity

    It is the crop yield (kg) per irrigation water applied (m3). Irrigation waterapplication is the controlled application of water (in m3/ha) for agricultural purposes through manmade systems to supply water requirements not satisfied by rainfall.
  • Energy balance

    Based on the IRENA 11 indicator (Energy use), the energy balance of the farm is the difference between the energy inputs and outputs.
  • Energy efficiency

    The farm energy efficiency is the relationship between the crop energy and the energy used in the farm management for the crop production.
  • Energy productivity

    The energy productivity of the farm is the crop yield (kg) per MJ of energy used for crop production.
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Social – Farmer Welfare and Well-being

  • Working hours per hectare

    It is a quantitative indicator of the amount of working hours employed in a farm. To homogenize the value, it is expressed as working hours per hectare. To obtain this value it is necessary to count the working hours per operation performed.
  • Satisfaction index

    It is a qualitative indicator of farmers' perception of the working conditions and the farm management.
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Environmental – Biodiversity Enhancement + Resource Use and Protection

  • Soil tillage index

    This indicator refers to the grade of severity that machinery, used on the farm, provides to the soil. It refers to the number of passes, the implementation depth and the type of used agricultural implement.
  • Soil cover rate

    This indicator refers to the number of days per year on which the soil is covered. It is based on the "Soil Cover" indicator defined by OECD in 2001.
  • Soil erosion risk

    Erosion is one of the major problems that agriculture should face to becoming a more sustainable activity. The indicator assesses the risk of soil erosion due to farm management practices.
  • Organic matter

    Organic matter is any material produced originally by living organisms (plant or animal) that is returned to the soil and goes through the decomposition process. It consists of a range of materials from the intact original tissues of plants and animals to the substantially decomposed mixture of materials known as humus.
  • Crops Diversity

    Crops diversity allows the risk diversification in the farm:
    • - Different crops require a different management and therefore the labor and technical factors are optimized.
    • - Different crops have different root systems and therefore that improves the efficiency in taking all the soil nutrients.
    • - Pests, diseases and weeds are easier to control because crops planting seasons and susceptibilities to them are different.
  • Crop rotations

    Crop rotation on arable land is the practice of alternating annual crops grown on a specific field in a planned pattern or sequence in successive crop years so that crops of the same species are not grown without interruption on the same field. If the same crop is grown continuously, the term monoculture can be used to describe the phenomenon. A crop rotation is a series of different crops planted in the same field following a defined order (i.e. maize-cotton-sunnhemp or maize-soyabeans). Monoculture on the other hand is the repeated planting of the same crop in the same field year after year. The rotation of different species of cereals (for example wheat, barley, oats, wheat) is also considered as crop rotation.
  • N balance

    Based on the IRENA 18 indicator (Gross nutrient balance). Gross nutrient balances can be used to estimate agricultural nitrogen surpluses, and the potential for non-point source pollution of ground and surface waters. The objective of an integrated environmental assessment would be to link nutrient pressures from agriculture (as derived from gross nutrient balances) to measured nitrate concentrations in water bodies in a spatially referenced way.
  • N efficiency

    N efficiency is the ratio between the amount of fertilizer N removed from the field by the crop and the amount of fertilizer N applied expressed in %.
  • P Balance

    Based on the IRENA 18 indicator, it is assessed the impact of phosphorus used in agriculture. The phosphorus balance is an indicator calculated as soiltotal P inputs minus total P outputs. Phosphorus is an element retained by soil and it can be transported in runoff after rainfall, in other words it can be lost through erosion and leaching.
  • P efficiency

    P efficiency is the ratio between the amount of P fertilizer (P expressed as P2O5) uptaken by the crop and the amount of fertilizer P2O5 applied to the field, expressed in %.
  • GHGs Balance (Greenhouse Gases balance)

    This indicator measures the amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) emitted into the atmosphere during the whole season. GHG emissions are measured in in carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per hectare (t/ha).
  • Greenhouse per kg

    This indicator measures the amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emitted into the atmosphere (equivalent CO2) during the whole season per crop yield in kg. (kg CO2/kg).
  • Natural area

    For this indicator, the percentage of “Natural area” is calculated. This percentage is the relationship between the natural vegetation area and the total area of the farm. It is based on aerial photography and it takes into account the boundaries of each farm. it is possible to determine the relationship between the natural vegetation and the total area of the farm.
  • Biodiversity structures

    The existence of biodiversity structures are necessary for the life of animals and they can be related to the level of sustainability of the plot.
  • Buffers and security areas

    They mean the relationship between the buffers and the security areas and the total area of the farm. Based on aerial photography and taking into account the boundaries of each farm, it is possible to determine the relationship between the area used as multifunctional buffers and the total area of the farm.
  • PPPs (Plant protection products) management

    Based on “Check it out – Pesticide Handling Areas” by The Voluntary Initiative. Keeping herbicides and other plant protection products out of water is vital for protecting the environment and lower the risk. Over 40% of plant protection products that find their way into water come from handling areas.
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