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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 29 No. 3, p. 728-737
     
    Received: Sept 7, 1998
    Published: May, 2000


    * Corresponding author(s): grhess@ncsu.edu
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doi:10.2134/jeq2000.00472425002900030007x

A Conceptual Model and Indicators for Assessing the Ecological Condition of Agricultural Lands1

  1. George R. Hess *,
  2. C. Lee Campbell,
  3. Daniel A. Fiscus,
  4. Anne S. Hellkamp,
  5. Betty F. McQuaid,
  6. Michael J. Munster,
  7. Steven L. Peck and
  8. Steven R. Shafer
  1. EMAP-Agricultural Lands Resource Group, North Carolina State Univ., Raleigh, NC.
    EMAP-Agricultural Lands Resource Group, North Carolina State Univ., Raleigh, NC.
    U.S. Dep. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Raleigh, NC.
    U.S. Dep. of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Raleigh, NC.

Abstract

Abstract

As part of an environmental monitoring and assessment effort, we developed a conceptual model for measuring and assessing the condition and sustainability of agroecosystems. An agroecosystem is a field, pasture, or orchard and the associated border areas. We focused on ecological sustainability and defined the goals for agroecosystems in terms of the values people place on them. The purpose of an agroecosystem is to produce food and fiber. Other desired outcomes can be considered as goals for the larger landscape and the rest of the world, and they sometimes function as constraints on production. Condition is defined by agroecosystem productivity and the degree to which farmers use management and stewardship practices that conserve and protect valued natural resources in the landscape and the rest of the world. An agroecosystem in good condition is productive and is managed to conserve valued resources. Sustainability is the maintenance of good condition over time. We developed indicators that link system condition and sustainability to societal values and goals. These indicators measure productivity, management practices that promote sustainability at the agroecosystem scale, and management practices that promote sustainability at landscape and global scales. Our initial efforts focused on annually harvested herbaceous crops; however, the concepts we used can be adapted to other plant and livestock systems. Our conceptual approach may be used to evaluate the effectiveness of several major programs now being implemented, including the USDA's Environmental Quality Incentive and Conservation Reserve Programs.

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