Agricultural sustainability can be measured - But it’s not easy!


Have you ever wondered how measuring agricultural sustainability works in practice, or how the EU's Farm to Fork sustainability objectives can be achieved? Management guru Peter Drucker is known for his statement: “You can't manage what you can't measure”. In other words, without measurement, it is not possible to know whether you succeeded or not.

Measuring agricultural sustainability in a meaningful way is far from simple, encompassing agronomic, environmental, and socio-economic factors. Balance needs to be struck between simplistic easy to use and more complex and holistic systems. For example, food waste (including damage by pests, weeds and diseases) is responsible for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, three times more than is emitted by the global aviation industry [1].

[1] A study by Poore and Nemecek (2018) found that almost one-quarter – 24% – of food’s emissions come from food that is lost in supply chains or wasted by consumers. Almost two-thirds of this (15% of food emissions) comes from losses in the supply chain which result from poor storage and handling techniques; lack of refrigeration; and spoilage in transport and processing. The other 9% comes from food thrown away by retailers and consumers.

To put this in context: The footprint from food waste is around three times the global emissions from aviation. Or, if we were to put it in the context of national emissions, it would be the world’s third largest emitter. Only China (21%) and the United States (13%) emitted more. [Source 1 & Source 2]