Extension Ag Update
December 2008
Articles Research Resources Internet Links Ag Facts Education


Are Your Farming Practices Sustainable?
Ellen Phillips, Extension Educator, University of Illinois Extension, 708-352-0109,

Increasing prices for inputs as well as concerns about global warming are encouraging more producers to change the framework in which they view their farms and they are asking if their farming system is sustainable into the future. The Illinois Farm Sustainability Calculator is a spreadsheet-based model capable of quantifying and analyzing some of the most important measures of agricultural sustainability for any farm in the state of Illinois.

Users input data from their farm including soil information, the production area of each crop, nutrients added to the fields, tillage methods, the number and type of animals raised, livestock dietary requirements, energy sources used, building energy use, product hauling distances etc. The model takes these inputs, combines them with data concerning crop productivity, carbon sequestration and emissions, energy use for different types of tillage and buildings, alternative energy production, and many other subjects.

From these parameters, IFSC produces final balance sheets for animal feed production vs. consumption, energy production vs. consumption, carbon sequestration vs. carbon emission, and nitrate runoff. It also indicates how many people the farm can feed. In other words, IFSC allows its user to discover whether or not their current farm design is sustainable and test it against any number of hypothetical farm designs until a sustainable design is reached. Development of the IFSC was funded by the Dudley Smith Initiative. To begin your farms sustainability index, go to the website https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/14015, Click on "File" and download the "zip" file. Begin entering data for your farm. Chose a cold winter day and bring your cup of coffee because there is a lot of information to enter, but it is worth your time if you are interested in assessing different options to increase the long-term sustainability of your farm.

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