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 below to explore the Global Farm Metric categories, subcategories and indicators.
• Increase biodiversity and protect threatened organisms and habitats within productive and non-productive agricultural land
• Increase the area, suitability and connectivity of habitats for species naturally found in the farm’s location
• Improve ecosystem health and reduce pollution
• Indicator species for habitat quality
• Species richness
• Area of habitats (including productive habitats)
Air, soil & water quality
• Air quality indicator species
• Soil toxins and salinity
• Water quality indicator species
• Improve knowledge of changes in the climate, weather and length of growing season in a farm’s location
• Enable timely adaptation of farming systems and practices to changing climate conditions
• Improve resilience of production, natural and social systems and reduce the impacts of extreme events
• Average temperature
• Average rainfall
• Number of extreme precipitation events
• Days of meteorological drought
• Days of official heatwave
• Length of growing season (timing of frosts)
• Reduce water use overall and reliance on mains and extracted water
• Increase use of recycled and grey water
• Improve the natural water holding capacity of soil and habitats in both agriculturally
productive and non-productive areas
• Increase the availability of fresh water and functioning of natural water systems, as well as resilience to flood and drought
• Water added to system (amount by source)
• Amount of water held in soil
• Water held in farm habitats
• Maximise soil carbon storage and sequestration and reduce carbon loss to the atmosphere
• Improve soil health, biodiversity and functionality
• Improve soil conservation
• Increase the resilience, long-term sustainability and quality of production on-farm
Carbon sequestration & storage
• Soil carbon
• Structure (visual evaluation of soil structure)
• Chemistry (soil organic matter content)
• Biology (earthworm count)
• Visible erosion signs
• Soil vulnerability (shear strength)
• Minimise the importation of nutrients to the system in feed or chemical fertilisers
• Reduce the movement, waste loss of nutrients to the environment
• Improve the amount and mix of nutrients held in soils on-farm and the ability of the
soil to store them
• Reduce the environmental and business costs associated with the production,
transportation, use and pollution of artificial fertilisers
• Amount of nutrients entering farm system
• Balance of nutrients entering and leaving the farm system (including products,
manure and slurry)
• Soil macro-nutrient and micro-nutrient levels
• Cation exchange capacity of soil
• Reduce external inputs and the impacts that arise from their extraction, processing, manufacture, transport and use
• Identify aspects of infrastructure needing attention and reduce risk of deteriorating or inappropriately used infrastructure
• Improve production efficiency; farmer, worker and visitor safety; and product safety and quality
Energy and fuel
• Amount and type of energy and fuel used
• Amount of energy generated
• Inventory of non-nutrient inputs used
• Amount of energy generated
• Fitness for purpose of buildings and other infrastructure
• State of buildings and other infrastructure
Farmers & Workers
Farmer and workers outcomes:
• Improve working conditions for farmers, their families and workers (including volunteers, temporary and permanent) – irrespective of age, disability, gender, faith or ethnicity
• Provide freedom from discrimination, bullying, physical and psychological harm
• Improve opportunities for representation, skills development and career pathways
• Improve the effectiveness of decision-making
• Occupational injuries and near misses
• Number of days of sickness
• Remuneration and rewards for work
• Freedoms and rights
• Staff turnover
• Days of training
• Staff promotion (internal or external)
• Work role allocation
• Decision making model
• Number of people involved
Crops & Pasture
Crops and pasture outcomes:
• Improve the health of crops and pasture for efficient, resilient and high-quality production
• Minimise the interventions required to achieve and maintain health, including fit between crop species and varieties and the environment
• Improve the lifespan of crops and pasture (including grasslands and orchards), reducing pre-harvest losses and frequency of re-planting
• Species characteristics appropriate to farming system and conditions
• Variety characteristics appropriate to farming system and conditions
• Genetic characteristics appropriate to farming system and conditions
• Germination percentage
• Pre-harvest loss of standing crop
• Re-seeding/re-planting interval
• Species richness of unsown grasslands
• Species-specific field test of crop health
• Improve farm animal health and welfare and reduce incidence of disease
• Enable expression of natural behaviours and improve quality of life
• Reduce the interventions required to maintain health and welfare
• Species characteristics appropriate to farming system and conditions
• Breed characteristics appropriate to farming system and conditions
• Genetic characteristics appropriate to farming system and conditions (at herd/flock
Health & welfare
• Species-specific measures of welfare (physical, behavioural)
• Species-specific measures of quality of life
• Maintain and improve the yields of crop and animal products from the farm
• Maintain and improve the quality of these crop and animal products
• Maintain and improve the resilience of production
• Amount of crop harvested / livestock slaughtered
• Amount of crops and livestock products sold / consumed
• Amount of waste produced (including equipment taken out of service)
• Nutritional profile of products
• Livestock products and crops meeting standards of intended buyer
• Crop diversity (using the crop diversity index, including temporal diversity)
• Animal diversity (using livestock diversity index)
• Farming system diversity (e.g. mixed or specialist)
• Improve financial viability of production – including farms managed on a not-for- profit basis
• Increase resources available to improve sustainability and adapt to immediate and long-term challenges
• Diversify income streams to spread risk in the context of volatile markets for farm produce
• Farm business ownership
• Land ownership and tenure
• Legal status
• Profit including non-farming enterprises and external funding
• Profit excluding non-farming enterprises
• Profit excluding external funding
• Profit excluding non-farming enterprises and external funding
• Ability to invest
• Liabilities relative to assets
• Number and relative proportion of income streams
• Improve the health, well-being and resilience of farmers and their families through local support and services for the farming system
• Improve connectivity, as well as the support, knowledge and resource sharing needed to adapt to challenges
• Improve the relationship between the farm and community to create a mutually supportive and thriving environment
• Services and infrastructure
• Connectedness to initiatives, advice, and peers
Activities undertaken (including employment, school visits, events, community
projects, rights of way management, care for cultural, historic or geologically important sites and landscapes, and protection of rare breeds and crop landraces)
Global Farm Metric
Measures environmental, social and economic indicators
A framework and baseline of data for all food and farming stakeholders
A common language to align existing metrics around a holistic view of farm-level sustainability
Developed by farmers, for farmers
Measures the state of the farming system
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 @GFMCoalition 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 create 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