Date of Award

8-2007

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Resource Economics and Policy

Advisor

Stewart Smith

Second Committee Member

Kathleen P. Bell

Third Committee Member

George Criner

Abstract

This work constructs and tests a comparative technique that can be used to determine the ability of agricultural systems to meet multiple objectives of sustainability. Assessments are based on an agricultural system's ability to maintain five system stocks that represent environmental capital, social capital, human capital, physical capital, and financial capital. The capital stocks are measured as stock objectives, which are decomposed as indicators to calculate agricultural system scores. An examination of the complexity of agro-ecosystems and the multiple equilibria produced by balancing multiple objectives is used to explain the alternative criteria used in this comparative technique to evaluate agricultural systems. The indicators of each of the objectives of the five capitals in this comparative technique are assessed using multi-criteria decision-making. Based upon research and the advice of experts in the field, a survey instrument was developed that uses farming practices to evaluate indicators of the five system stocks. A sample of 23 Maine farms was used to test the survey instrument. Given the sample size of observations and nature of the data, no statistical tests were done for this work. However, the sample allows for preliminary evaluations of the ability of the comparative technique to assess distinctions between farming systems in balancing the multiple objectives of sustainability. From these results, it appears that both organic and conventional farming operations can be adept at balancing the many objectives of sustainability. These results also suggest that due to the scale of operations and marketing channels used by the farms surveyed, some conventional farming operations can meet a "Pretty sustainability" test better than some organic farming operations. The results from the surveyed farmers demonstrate the intricacies inherent in making the tradeoffs necessary to balance multiple objectives. Farming operations that tended to score well on system stocks such as environmental capital did not always score so well on other system stocks. Future work with a larger sample of farms could demonstrate whether or not the sample results of this pilot project are representative of a broader population.

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