The sustainability of farming systems must be assessed by their potential environmental, economic, and social performance. We present a case study to illustrate an assessment of relative sustainability that uses all three performance criteria.
We developed two scenarios for farmland currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in Putnam County, Missouri: a conventional scenario reflecting farming practices typical of northern Missouri, and an alternative that we hypothesize to be more environmentally sound. We used selected economic and social indicators to assess whether the latter would be at least as economically viable and socially responsible as the conventional system.
Estimated direct farm income was $3.4 million for the alternative and $2.4 million for the conventional scenario. The alternative system applies more labor and management to a given land resource and may support more farming families. Estimated total community economic impacts were 25% greater for the alternative than the conventional farming scenario. CRP land, therefore, could be returned to production in a way that could significantly enhance local economic and social benefits while retaining many of the CRP's environmental benefits.