Environmental sustainability indicators for cash-crop farms in Quebec, Canada: A participatory approach.

Thivierge, M.-N., Parent, D., Bélanger, V., Angers, D.A., Allard, G., Pellerin, D., and Vanasse, A. (2014). "Environmental sustainability indicators for cash-crop farms in Quebec, Canada: A participatory approach.", Ecological Indicators, 45, pp. 677-686. doi : 10.1016/j.ecolind.2014.05.024  Access to full text

Abstract

On-farm environmental assessment, with consideration to the specificity of the farming system and the geographic zone, can enable farmers to include the environmental aspect in their management decisions. In the province of Quebec, Canada, 45% of the cultivated land is dedicated to grain production and among the 13,800 farms that sell grains, 3975 are specialized in this production. Cereal-based systems have their own constraints and realities and could benefit from a specific tool to assess their environmental sustainability. The objective of this research was to adapt and further develop a set of indicators of environmental sustainability at the farm level for cash-crop farms of the province of Quebec, in order to provide a self-assessment and decision-aid tool to farmers. Using a methodology based on focus groups of experts (researchers, stakeholders, and farmers), several indicators developed for dairy farms were adapted to cash-crop farms. Then the set of indicators was tested on cash-crop farms across the province through interviews with 31 farmers. The indicators were weighted according to their contribution to four sub-objectives of environmental sustainability (soil, water, air, and biodiversity conservation). A new type of chart was designed to help farmers understand and interpret the scores obtained from the set of indicators. Finally, a questionnaire was sent to the 31 farmers for end-use validation. A total of 16 indicators emerged from this research. The weighting reveals that, out of a total of 177 points, the indicators that contribute the most to environmental sustainability of cash-crop farms are “integrated pest management” (21 points), “crop diversity” (19 points), “riparian buffer strip” (18 points), and “incorporation of manure into the soil” (16 points). In comparison with a radar chart and a conventional bar chart, a new bar chart revealed to be a better decision aid tool, allowing the majority of farmers to identify the sustainability weaknesses of a fictive farm. However, the graphic design of this chart could be improved for easier understanding. The end-use validation confirmed the interest of farmers in this decision-aid tool.

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