Measuring progress towards sustainable intensification: How far can secondary data go?

AP Barnes*, SG Thomson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


A number of influential policy documents have championed sustainable intensification as an approachto meet the challenge of a growing population under increasing land constraints. Whilst there has beensome discussion on how to define sustainable intensification, few studies have provided frameworks formeasuring progress.This paper develops an approach using data from the Farm Account Data Network for a balanced panelof 42 beef farms within Scotland. Indicators reflecting economic, environmental and social parametersare derived from this database and measured over the period 2000–2010. These variables are objectivelyweighted to construct an overall index using positive matrix factorisation (PMF), a form of factor analysis,which is appropriate when handling environmental quantities. We find little change in Scottish beeffarming with respect to sustainable intensification, which reflects both a policy which has not supportedintensification or output expansion over this period, nor has it increased economic, social or ecosystemsustainability over this period.We argue that secondary data is a valuable resource for creating indicators for all these areas of policyinterest and data from the farm account networks emphasises the production elements of farming, whichis central to definitions of sustainable intensification. However, within the score itself there is a great dealof variance which highlights caution in how to use a single indicator to fully reflect progress towards thisgoal.© 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213 - 220
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Indicators
Publication statusPrint publication - Jan 2014

Bibliographical note



  • Beef farming
  • Farm Account Data Network
  • Positive matrix factorisation
  • Sustainable intensification


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