Almost half the world’s habitable land is now farmed to feed our global food production system. What happens on these farms will determine our biodiversity, climate and future health.
A unique opportunity exists to harness the power of farming and land use to address the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and declining public health through the introduction of a common framework to measure the impact of agriculture.
However, there are barriers that prevent farmers becoming a driver of positive change.
There is no common language for on farm sustainability. There is no consistent definition of on-farm sustainability, limiting understanding of issues and where to start.
Existing definitions often overlook the interconnectedness of the farming system. Sustainability must be understood holistically, taking into account environmental, social and economic impacts.
Assessments based on narrow definitions mean some impacts can be overlooked. This can come at a cost to other parts of the system, giving rise to unintended consequences.
There is no consistent way of measuring and monitoring sustainability at farm-level. Farmers are asked to collect data in different ways, increasing the time-burden and complexity of assessment.
Food and farming stakeholders do not have a consistent baseline of farm-level data. This hinders transparency and the creation of a system that rewards sustainable farming outcomes.
With the transparency of a common language, we connect and empower all stakeholders in the food system to drive this much-needed transition to planet friendly farming.
The Global Farm Metric defines on-farm sustainability and enables farmers to measure their whole-farm impacts in a consistent way. It is designed to align existing assessments and create a common baseline of data.
Evidenced based and evolving, the framework is verified by researchers and farmers so that data collection is both practical and useful. It is outcomes focused to recognise the diversity of farming systems and practices.
The categories provide an overview of the farm’s sustainability, so none are considered in isolation and farmers are better equipped to mitigate negative impacts. The sub-categories and indicators identify impacts and unintended consequences to improve environmental, social and economic outcomes.
A common framework starts and ends with consistent data collection. It is not another certification, audit or management tool.
When adopted, a common framework aligns existing data-collection systems and establishes a baseline of farm-level data. Real progress towards positive change can then be benchmarked and monitored against sustainable development goals at a local, national and international scale.
As well as helping farmers reduce negative impacts and unintended consequences, a common framework enables governments and the market to reward producers who are delivering genuine benefit to the environment and public health. This will shift the balance of financial advantage towards more sustainable production.
This collective action can drive positive change to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable food and farming systems.
Achieving our climate goals is dependent on everyone being able to do better.
Click on the wheel to explore the Global Farm Metric categories
An indication of the health and wellbeing of the people working on and associated with the farm
Health and wellbeing of workers:
Considers the physical (accidents and near misses), emotional health of workers and the nature of their working conditions.
Training and capacity building:
The training and development of workers on the farm.
The diversity of workers on the farm, the nature of their employment contracts and working conditions.
Indicates the abundance and diversity of natural life on the whole farm.
Captures the diversity of crops and livestock on the farm (managed).
Captures the diversity of wildlife, plants and fungi on the farm.
Identifies the habitat diversity on-farm as a driver of animal and plant biodiversity.
Plant & Crop Health
Identifies crop cultivation practices on the farm.
Indicates the health of the cropping system in terms of rotation practices for all farmed crops.
Pest and disease control:
Measures the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides and records methods of pest and disease management.
Indicates the resilience of the cropping system.
Identifies the livestock management practices and impact on animal welfare.
Reflects livestock housing, feeding and inspection practices.
Health and welfare:
Indicates the health, welfare and resilience of the animals on the farm.
Feed and input efficiency:
Identifies the feed type and source of the feed for animals on-farm, as well as the efficiency of protein conversion.
Captures nutrient management in relation to water and soil quality, biodiversity, productivity and crop health.
Inputs and Outputs:
Indicates the amount of nutrients (N,P & K) that are used at a field level.
Indicates the efficient use of nutrients (uptake or loss) in relation to the production system.
Reflects the balance of nutrients on the
Energy & Resource Use
Identifies what energy is fuelling the farm and how non organic materials are managed.
Energy sources and usage:
Indicates the amount of direct and indirect consumption of energy, its quality and efficiency of use. Also captures the value of food produce (Mj) for human consumption as a ratio of total production.
Indicates the amount of energy produced directly on the farm (not imported).
Material recycling, re-use and reduction:
The percentage of non-organic material that is recycled, re-used or reduced on the farm.
Air & Climate
Captures direct and indirect emissions and carbon sequestration.
Emissions by source:
Net emissions on the farm that relate to each source (e.g. fuel, livestock, inputs) for each land use (croplands, forest and grassland).
Removals and sequestration:
On-farm carbon removals and sequestration.
The degree to which the air in a particular place is pollution-free. Of particular importance on farms are Ammonia and Nitrous Oxide.
Captures water quality and management.
Captures source, availability and efficiency of water use on the farm (mains, boreholes, ground, surface tanks, reservoirs, stored and grey water.)
Indicates the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of water running within the farm boundary.
Assesses the value of the water bodies for wildlife. This also captures freshwater biodiversity and includes the aquatic life and algae in the water.
Captures soil health in terms of its structure, organic matter and soil biodiversity.
Soil organic matter:
Measures organic matter which enhances the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil.
Measures the solids and voids in the soil that indicate water holding capacity and infiltration rate. This affects root penetration, water availability and soil aeration, highlighting how prone the soil is to erosion.
Captures the type and abundance of organisms in the soil. This reflects how balanced a soil is and how healthy the ecosystem below ground is for plants and nutrients.
Captures how goods are produced to indicate economic sustainability.
Measures the total yield of agricultural outputs at farm level for food and non-food products.
Indicates the financial health of the whole farm.
Reflects production within the carrying capacity of the landscape and ability to adapt to shocks and stresses.
Global Farm Metric
Measures environmental, social and economic indicators
A framework and baseline of data for all food and farming stakeholders
Compatible with other frameworks
Tested by farmers, for farmers
Measures impacts, as well as practices.
Inclusive and applicable to all farming systems and landscapes
Evidenced based and evolving
Grounded in data and built on scientific evidence
A common language drives positive action. It enables shared understanding, a supporting policy and economic environment and informed consumer choice.
For farmers to be a driver of positive change, they must have a shared understanding of sustainability and be financially rewarded.
A common framework enables consistent monitoring and reporting of impacts so farmers can evidence and improve the production of nutritious food, growth of natural capital and delivery of public goods.
This data can be used to support consistent sourcing and investment by the financial industry and food businesses, as well as inform direct payment schemes.
Government and policy
For farming to be part of the solution, governments must create an enabling policy environment and monitor progress at farm level.
A baseline of on-farm data can be aggregated to track change at a local, national and international scale.
This can monitor progress towards sustainability goals and provide data for evidence-based agriculture and trade policy.
The Global Farm Metric maps onto the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is relevant to and supportive of 16 of the 17 SDGs, and 94 of the 169 SDG targets.
For financing the transition towards more sustainable systems, we must have a common baseline of data.
A common framework can support sustainable investment by the finance industry, informing farm support payments, access to new markets, and ESG reporting.
This helps to create a supportive economic environment that rewards farmers who are actively reducing their negative environmental, social and economic impacts.
For food businesses to support more sustainable producers, they need comparable information on whole-farm impacts.
A common framework and baseline enables food businesses to assess the sustainability of products across social, economic and environmental indicators.
As well as streamlining internal reporting, this can create a positive market incentive that rewards more sustainable farming.
A common framework of measurement and pool of on-farm data can also help agri-tech companies understand the impact of practice change and develop appropriate technologies.
For citizens to mobilise consumer power, we need consistent and verifiable information.
A common language enables transparency and accountability across the supply chain. It can align food labelling and raises awareness of whole-farm sustainability.
For knowledge exchange that inspires innovation and drives change globally, we need a definition for sustainability at farm-level.
Expressed through the Global Farm Metric framework, a common definition for on-farm sustainability will enable dialogue between educators, learners, consultants and farmers.
Frequently asked questions
Still have questions? You can contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or @GFMColition on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
The current industrial farming model is contributing to escalating climate change, biodiversity loss and adverse public health. But farming is also unique. Not only can it protect biodiversity and support health and wellbeing, it can remove carbon from the atmosphere and become a nature-based solution to climate change.
For farmers to become the agent for this change, they must have the information they need to manage this transition, a common understanding of the impact they are having over time, and a strong business case for change.
The Global Farm Metric framework provides a consistent way to measure whole-farm impacts. Farmers and farm consultants can use this to improve their understanding of sustainability, identify where further information may need to be gathered and better environmental, social and economic outcomes.
Consistent measurement of impacts creates a baseline of farm-level data that can be used as evidence for certifiers, government and the supply chain. Governments, for example, can use this baseline to monitor progress towards sustainability goals; as the basis of farm support; to evidence the delivery of public goods; and to see the impact of policy. The finance and supply chain can similarly use this information as the basis of investment and loans and evidencing ESG progress.
This shifts the balance of financial advantage towards more sustainable production, enabling all stakeholders to drive change from the ground up and top down.
At farm-level, the categories of the framework encompass all aspects of sustainability, so none are considered in isolation. The sub- categories explain the categories in greater depth, providing focus for the subsequent indicator level. The indicators identify how to measure the sub-categories and encourage further investigation.
The framework is to be embedded into existing farm data collection systems to create a common language for sustainability that helps farmers to understand and communicate their impacts in a holistic way. It also establishes the common thread of data to align existing farm assessment and management systems which will reduce duplication and encourage their use by farmers. For more specialist applications, additional data will still be required. For example, a carbon calculator may need more information on sources of emissions and sequestration to evidence carbon net gain and access new markets.
It is not a new assessment tool, standard or certification. A common framework starts and ends with consistent data collection.
The GFM, is not a new farm management tool, certification scheme, or audit. It is a common framework to be integrated into existing tools, assessments and frameworks that measure on-farm impacts. By doing so, it connects all food and farming stakeholders and aligns new and existing frameworks around the world to create a common language and baseline of data.
Some key differences:
- The research tool is used only to test the framework with farmers
- The research tool is a ‘window’ into the framework – it is not a direct duplication
- The research tool has an online platform, scoring, calculations and data interpretation – the framework does not
- The framework currently does not define the methods and ways in which farmers should collect data – a tool that has the framework embedded might recommend these
- The framework is to be embedded into existing data collection systems so all farmers measure the same data points and everyone has a consistent baseline of farm-level data
The Coalition is supported by over 80 partners, including farmers, consultants, researchers, educators, environmental groups, certifiers, food companies, financial services and government agencies – all working together to develop the Global Farm Metric and drive adoption.
Delivering the Global Farm Metric is not only about defining a framework to measure on-farm sustainability, it is about ensuring all stakeholders use the same framework to assess impact that belongs in the commons. The priority therefore has been to work with a broad set of stakeholders, all of whom are looking for their own answers on sustainability, and to unite them through this standardised approach to measurement.
Each of our coalition partners have signed up to this, understanding that the Global Farm Metric is an independent, transparent and robust system of data collection, and bring with them the potential for adoption across their supply chains and networks.
The Global Farm Metric is a framework for measuring whole-farm sustainability; it only defines the common points of data collection needed for farmers to measure their impacts in a consistent way. It is not a carbon calculator or farm management tool.
The data collection recommended in each of the GFM categories are important to measure when thinking about your GHG emissions and potential for sequestration. These overlap with existing frameworks and assessments for calculating GHGs.
However, to produce a carbon footprint, you would need a tool that defines the method, benchmarking data and specialist data collection required to get a full understanding of on-farm GHG emission and sequestration.
If you are taking part in a trial, the GFM research tool includes a basic carbon calculator, designed to show you the main sources of emissions from your type of farm. These can give you a high level indication of your highest emitting enterprise. However, the tool and results are not sensitive enough to show the impacts of many important management changes you could make to reduce your emissions.
The GFM data you have collected can be used to populate specialised online carbon calculator tools like AgreCalc or Cool Farm Tool which can give you a more comprehensive carbon calculation that can be used as a starting point for deciding the best way forward for your farm
We believe that net zero – however that is defined – needs to be achieved in a way that also delivers benefits to biodiversity, our water systems, human health, rural communities, and more.
While net zero schemes can help farmers reduce their emissions, the pursuit of a single outcome in isolation, such as carbon reduction or biodiversity gain, can come at a cost to other parts of the system. Furthermore, in countries with net zero targets like the UK, the implementation of net-zero at scale could significantly reduce domestic food production and force farmers to produce food more intensively. This could increase overall global emissions by driving up ’cheaper’ imports from parts of the world where agriculture has a relatively greater carbon footprint than the UK.
The Global Farm Metric defines and measures whole-farm sustainability in a holistic way, providing balance to the net zero agenda. It also provides a common framework for carbon calculators so that each captures the key emissions and sequestration in agriculture consistently. This creates alignment and gives farmers a head-start when filling in carbon calculators, tackling key barriers to knowledge and engagement.
The Global Farm Metric can therefore help deliver net zero, without compromising on other factors which are also key for planetary and human health.
The GFM framework identifies the main tenets of farm level natural capital – including biodiversity, natural habitats, healthy soil, clean water, air, carbon capture as well as the social benefits of access to the countryside (social capital). The framework also identifies these as points of impact that need to be identified, monitored and improved (or maintained).
As we finalise the third layer of the framework (indicators/data collection) we will be able to articulate more precisely how the GFM data informs natural capital accountability.
The GFM frameworks aligns with the the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is relevant to and supportive of 16 of the 17 SDGs, and 94 of the 169 SDG targets.
The GFM recommends a common framework to consistently measure on-farm impacts in a way that is practical and useful for farmers. When embedded into existing data collection frameworks and tools, a common baseline of farm-level data can be collected to monitor progress towards the SDGs at a local, national and international scale.
The Global Farm Metric mission is to drive positive social, environmental and economic outcomes. As farms now cover half of the earths habitable land, we need to understand, monitor and improve negative impacts at farm-level.
Data collection on whole-farm impacts is the only way to fully understand the sustainability of food production. Collecting primary data consistently is essential for reliable and transparent reporting of impacts along the supply chain, from farm to fork.
Farmers, government, finance, business and consumers can then use this information to make more sustainable and transparent choices – whether it be on farm, public and private investment or purchasing decisions.
Reducing our impact on nature, climate and health is dependent on everyone being able to do better.
Farmers: reduce complexity, save time and improve sustainability outcomes
Government: consistent data to evidence and monitor public goods
Certifiers and consultants: increased take up by farmers
Finance: evidence ESG targets, net zero goals and sustainable investment
Food industry: evidence, transparency and communication