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What the sustainability status is

We have recently implemented a new assessment which assigns each farm participating with Trace & Save a sustainability status. The purpose of this status is not necessary to categorise each farm and say whether they are good or not. It is rather to identify where the farm is on their sustainability journey. Of course we know that the lower a farms environmental impact the better, but what is equally important to us is the process that farmers have implemented to improve on where they started. Many farms may not be perfect, but they have made great strides to improve their sustainability.


How the sustainability status works

The Trace & Save sustainability status consists of five categories:

  • Sustainability champion – These are farms which we believe represent the most sustainable farm systems.
  • Good sustainability progress – These are farms which have made good progress in improving on their sustainability indicators and have good sustainability indicators relative to benchmark figures.
  • Moderate sustainability progress – These are farms which have made some progress in improving on their sustainability indicators and have some good and other poor sustainability indicators relative to benchmark figures.
  • Weak sustainability progress – These are farms which have not made any progress in improving on their sustainability indicators and their sustainability indicators are poor relative to benchmark figures.

The sustainability status is based on seven sustainability indicators (using Trace & Save’s SWAN system). A farm scores points in each of the seven categories according to the table below. Note that the baseline level is from the first time a farm was assessed, and the current level is the most recent assessment.

Sustainability status - Table 1

For a farm to achieve each status below, they need to accumulate the following amounts of points:

  • Sustainability champion – A farm must score 13 or more points and must have an overall soil health status of good health (this is an important distinction of being a sustainability champion farm).
  • Good sustainability progress – A farm must score 10 or more points.
  • Moderate sustainability progress – A farm must score 7 or more points.
  • Weak sustainability progress – A farm must score less than 7 points.
  • Insufficient data – This is when a farm is missing data for any of the indicators in the table. This is the case when a farm has only been participating with Trace & Save for less than two years, since many of the scores are reliant on two sets of indicators to assess change.

It was important to us that the Sustainability Champion status be very difficult to attain and that any farm that attained such a status have very good soil health along with the other sustainability indicators.

Current sustainability status across all Trace & Save farms

As of the beginning of February 2022, when this article was written, there are 102 active farms on the Trace & Save database. The table below shows the number of farms in each category of the Sustainability Status.

Sustainability status - Table 2

There are two farms that have been able to attain a status of Sustainability Champion. These farms have been participating with Trace & Save since 2013. The majority of farms have a status of Good sustainability progress. This is very encouraging for us to see. What we hope to see in the future is that the farms in the Weak and Moderate sustainability progress groups can move themselves up. And there are obviously many farms which will receive their first status within this year as their second year of assessments are done.

The table below shows a breakdown of how many farms fall into each category of the seven sustainability indicators.

Sustainability status - Table 3

The area where we have seen the best progress is with improvement in nitrogen use efficiency. There are 53 farms which have higher NUE than their baseline. When you look at all four areas of change, there are more than 60% of farms which have improved on their baselines. On the contrary, most farms are not performing well relative to benchmarking scores, rather showing that the status of sustainability indicators are in the average range. These benchmarks have been selected by Trace & Save based on our own data, as well as relevant international studies that can be compared to our context.

What I find most encouraging from this data is that our farmers are headed in the right direction. There is still room for improvement, but they are heading in the right direction with the majority having improved since we first started working with them. We may not have the ideal sustainability indicator scores yet, but with this rate of improvement, I believe many farms will be achieving those levels soon.

Encouragement to farmers and consumers

I would encourage every farmer to think about what their sustainability status is, and which indicators are affecting that. And to continue to work on their farm system and strategies to improve their status. To consumers I would challenge them to encourage and challenge farmers to continue implementing practices that will contribute to greater sustainability of agricultural production.

Craig Galloway