Farmland Indicator Project: Uncovering sustainability in the darndest places

By Andrew Whitman, Director Sustainable Economies 


This December, our Sustainable Economies Program completed a catalogue of 240 environmental sustainability indicators for Hancock Agricultural Investment Group (HAIG).  The catalogue is the first milestone of a project to develop environmental sustainability indicators for Hancock’s 250,000 acres of diverse farmland from across the U.S.


It took months of uncovering the indicators already in place and trips to farms in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin to complete the catalogue. It was hard work to get every farm manager to reveal their environmental stewardship.  Time and time again, just when I thought I had exhausted our conversation, I would ask a seemingly trivial question and this would release a whole new cascade of additional information on HAIG’s environmental practices and indicators. 


I was continuously amazed at how HAIG farm managers underappreciated how much they already measured and managed for environmental sustainability.  They consistently demonstrated having indicators and practices in place to reduce resource use, conserve soils, and ensure regulatory compliance.  While these addressed the largest part of the environmental footprint of agriculture, their limitation was the lack of indicators for measuring and managing adverse environmental impacts.   This is where Manomet will focus our work for the next several months.  The end product will provide HAIG with a comprehensive set of indicators for systematically measuring and managing for sustainability on their farmlands.