Project results

There is a growing need for data on the sustainability of agriculture, not only within the industry but especially among researchers and policy makers to monitor and evaluate the Common Agricultural Policy with its cross-compliance, greening and rural development measures.

The FLINT project (Farm Level Indicators for New Topics in policy evaluation) has investigated options to collect such data. In 9 member states, with different systems of data collection at farm level, it has collected and analysed sustainability data from 1,100 farms in the Farm Accountancy Data Network.

The project has defined a list of relevant sustainability themes based on (emerging) policy needs, a literature review and a review of national initiatives to measure sustainability. The themes have been discussed with different stakeholder to evaluate the feasibility and usefulness of collecting farm level data on these themes. Finally 31 themes were identified, which have been translated into a list of data items to be collected at farm level.

The defined data items were collected in 9 member states (Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Finland, Hungary, Greece, Spain and France) on 1,100 farms of different farm types, 100 more than planned. Experiences of participating farmers and data collectors have been surveyed and analysed. Although some problems occurred, mainly due to the pilot project and first-year character of FLINT, it is concluded that data collection is feasible, whatever the way the member state has organised its data collection. What does make a difference is the relationship between the farmer and the FADN system and especially the FADN data collectors. The built-up trust is an important factor in the willingness of farmers to share the data.

The project shows how policy analysis benefit from additional data with indicators on the sustainability performance of farms (profit, planet and people aspects). The project has used the collected data in a number of case studies to evaluate and illustrate the added value of the newly collected sustainability indicators. The cases range from analysis on (1) specific dimensions such as risk management strategies; adoption of innovations; use of advisory services; indicators for greening measures and nutrient use efficiency indicators for milk production; (2) the connection between two or more dimensions of sustainability such as the impact of farmer age on agricultural sustainability; relation between advisory services and farm level sustainability and the impact of cap subsidies on technical efficiency (including environmental outputs) up to (3) integrated analysis of the tradeoffs between economic, environmental and social sustainability.

A crucial observation is that although the environment and other public values are the objectives of the policy, governments target a change in farm management. Therefore policy analysis requires an integrated data set at farm level to understand choices by farmers including trade-offs between economic and (sometimes contradicting) environmental and social objectives.

The project has investigated options to upscale the results of the FLINT project from 9 to 28 member states to create a representative panel with farm-level sustainability data. This leads to the conclusion that the most attractive option is to reduce the current FADN sample in order to accommodate a subsample with sustainability data. Also ideas for future work on indicator development and standardistation; integration with industry schemes and ICT solutions have been identified.

FLINT has provided a significant contribution to the field of policy assessment relevant to the CAP by showing the feasibility of collecting farm level sustainability data and illustrating the added value of these data in a number of cases. FLINT has made recommendations, on the basis of the experiences of the project, to support the establishment of an operational EU-wide system at the European Union. The inclusion of this data in the FADN is in line with FADN's basic legislation. It is proposed to introduce the changes in all member states via a project approach for the accounting year 2018.