The sustainability of agricultural systems is frequently evaluated with indicators, which are synthetic variables describing complex systems. Each indicator deals with one aspect of sustainability (e.g. nutrients, pesticides, energy), and therefore the result of a complete assessment usually includes several indicator values. These values are frequently presented separately, while an integrated evaluation could benefit from the calculation of a single sustainability index. The aim of this work was to integrate 15 economic and environmental indicator values into a global sustainability index (Sg) ranging from 0 to 1. To calculate the indicators, we used a large data set of cropping systems management for 131 fields cultivated with arable crops in northern Italy, obtained through periodic interviews with farmers over a 2-year period. The fields were chosen to represent the main cropping systems in the area (cereals and forages, on animal and cereal farms). The 15 indicators describe a large variety of sustainability aspects, i.e. the economic performance and the management of energy, nutrients, soil, and pesticides. The indicator values were first converted into a sustainability score (Si; 0-1) applying continuous non-linear sustainability functions that use thresholds defining what is sustainable, unsustainable, or intermediate. We obtained 15 values of Si per each field, which we aggregated into Sg using indicator-specific weights provided by different stakeholders. This procedure permits not only the single indicators evaluation, but also to combine indicators for an assessment of cropping systems at field level. Permanent meadows, due to good management of soil, pesticides and nutrients, obtained the highest Sg, even when different weights were used. Continuous rice obtained the lowest Sg (due to unsatisfactory soil management, low energy production, and high pest and weed pressure, which involved a large use of pesticides), while maize was intermediate, with good economic and energetic performance. The methodology allows a transparent, repeatable, sound, and quantitative evaluation of sustainability of agricultural systems. It can be easily expanded by adding other indicators, and can be tailored by changing the thresholds used to calculate Si and the weights assigned by stakeholder groups.

Integrated sustainability assessment of cropping systems with agro-ecological and economic indicators in northern Italy / N. Castoldi, L. Bechini. - In: EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF AGRONOMY. - ISSN 1161-0301. - 32:1(2010), pp. 59-72.

Integrated sustainability assessment of cropping systems with agro-ecological and economic indicators in northern Italy

N. Castoldi
Primo
;
L. Bechini
Ultimo
2010

Abstract

The sustainability of agricultural systems is frequently evaluated with indicators, which are synthetic variables describing complex systems. Each indicator deals with one aspect of sustainability (e.g. nutrients, pesticides, energy), and therefore the result of a complete assessment usually includes several indicator values. These values are frequently presented separately, while an integrated evaluation could benefit from the calculation of a single sustainability index. The aim of this work was to integrate 15 economic and environmental indicator values into a global sustainability index (Sg) ranging from 0 to 1. To calculate the indicators, we used a large data set of cropping systems management for 131 fields cultivated with arable crops in northern Italy, obtained through periodic interviews with farmers over a 2-year period. The fields were chosen to represent the main cropping systems in the area (cereals and forages, on animal and cereal farms). The 15 indicators describe a large variety of sustainability aspects, i.e. the economic performance and the management of energy, nutrients, soil, and pesticides. The indicator values were first converted into a sustainability score (Si; 0-1) applying continuous non-linear sustainability functions that use thresholds defining what is sustainable, unsustainable, or intermediate. We obtained 15 values of Si per each field, which we aggregated into Sg using indicator-specific weights provided by different stakeholders. This procedure permits not only the single indicators evaluation, but also to combine indicators for an assessment of cropping systems at field level. Permanent meadows, due to good management of soil, pesticides and nutrients, obtained the highest Sg, even when different weights were used. Continuous rice obtained the lowest Sg (due to unsatisfactory soil management, low energy production, and high pest and weed pressure, which involved a large use of pesticides), while maize was intermediate, with good economic and energetic performance. The methodology allows a transparent, repeatable, sound, and quantitative evaluation of sustainability of agricultural systems. It can be easily expanded by adding other indicators, and can be tailored by changing the thresholds used to calculate Si and the weights assigned by stakeholder groups.
Fossil energy; Integrated assessment; Nutrient balances; Pesticide; Soil management; Stakeholders; Sustainability functions
Settore AGR/02 - Agronomia e Coltivazioni Erbacee
2010
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/2434/70959
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