Evaluation of sustainability of organic, integrated and conventional farming systems: A farm and field-scale analysis

Cesare Pacini, Ada Wossink, Gerard Giesen, Concetta Vazzana, Ruud Huirne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agricultural researchers widely recognise the importance of sustainable agricultural production systems and the need to develop appropriate methods to measure sustainability. The principal purpose of this paper is to evaluate the financial and environmental aspects of sustainability of organic, integrated and conventional farming systems (OFS, IFS and CFS, respectively) at farm level and on more detailed spatial scales. This was achieved by applying an integrated economic-environmental accounting framework to three case study farms in Tuscany (Italy) covering different farming systems (FSs) and different spatial scales. The environmental performances of the FSs were measured through the application of an environmental accounting information system (EAIS) at field, site and farm level. The EAIS indicators were then integrated with: (1) a set of financial indicators to evaluate the economic and environmental trade-offs between different FSs and (2) with information on the regional and site-specific soil and climate conditions to study the impact of different pedo-climates on the environmental performances of the FSs. The gross margins of steady-state OFSs were found to be higher than the corresponding CFS gross margins. The OFSs perform better than IFSs and CFSs with respect to nitrogen losses, pesticide risk, herbaceous plant biodiversity and most of the other environmental indicators. However, on hilly soils, erosion was found to be higher in OFSs than in CFSs. The pesticide and the nitrogen indicators in this study showed a similar environmental impact caused by integrated and conventional farming practices. Regional pedo-climatic factors were found to have a considerable impact on nutrient losses, soil erosion, pesticide risk and herbaceous plant biodiversity, site-specific factors on nutrient losses and soil erosion. Results at field level suggest that herbaceous plant biodiversity and crop production are not always conflicting variables. Results of the case study farms are discussed and compared with environmental sustainability thresholds reported from EU Directives on nitrate and pesticides in groundwater and the literature. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-288
Number of pages15
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2003


  • Farming systems
  • Organic agriculture
  • Pedo-climatic impact
  • Sustainability
  • Tuscany


Dive into the research topics of 'Evaluation of sustainability of organic, integrated and conventional farming systems: A farm and field-scale analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this