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Farm trials

To apply the Global Farm Metric on the ground, the SFT’s farmers’ working group have been working with the UK government to introduce an annual sustainability assessment for farmers and land managers. This could not only help monitor progress towards sustainability goals, but also provide a mechanism to help combine existing farm audits and assessments.

The ELSA tool output: a radar diagram showing sustainability scores in each key area.

Bringing the idea of an annual on-farm sustainability assessment to life first took the form of an SFT project within Defra (UK) called ‘Gold Standard Metric’. This project aimed to encourage harmonisation in how government develop sustainability indicators, both at farm level and throughout the supply chain. This joined-up (or ‘harmonised’) approach was (and still is!) thought to be particularly important given the pace of policy change in government at the moment following Brexit.

Since then we’ve been working with Defra and FWAG to deliver an Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) trial in Gloucestershire. ELMS is the new subsidy scheme being rolled out by the UK government which aims to provide land managers with a way to plan and record which public goods they will provide.

A number of organisations were selected to run trials – we recruited over 25 small, medium and large-scale farms to trial our assessment tool, feedback on the process and improve their sustainability. Our tool took the form of the SFT’s ELM Sustainability Assessment – or ‘ELSA’ tool – which was developed in collaboration with the Royal Agriculture University in 2019/20. This excel based, open source, tool has allowed us to get feedback from farmers representing a wide diversity of enterprises and scales all over the country. We are currently exploring the possibility of turning this tool into a simple web-based platform, which will provide a more user-friendly experience for farmers as well as allowing us to take the tool to scale for wider trials (see ‘digital tool development’).

As a result of our ELMS trial, we’ve been able to demonstrate that the GFM can support the delivery of public goods by helping farmers produce nutritious food in a sustainable way. This proves that such a harmonised framework of assessment could not only inform the allocation of future agricultural support through Defra’s ELM scheme (and financially incentivise sustainable farming), but also empower all farmers to make positive incremental improvements to their sustainability and delivery of public goods.


A vital aspect of the Global Farm Metric is its ability to work internationally and be applied to all environments, climates and cultures. To start this process, we’ve partnered with the Organic Association of Kentucky, the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville to trial the Global Farm Metric in Kentucky, USA. This involves adapting the self-assessment tool for US farmers and ensuring region specific data is used to derive meaningful results.

The Sustainable Food Trust, supported by Women Forward International, has also been collaborating with researchers at Cornell University to investigate how the impact of racial and gender inequity within the farm gate can be measured and integrated into the Global Farm Metric– a metric that no farm tool has included before. The development of these measures is closely linked to our ground-breaking work on True Cost Accounting which aims to make visible the hidden costs of different production systems – in this case, the focus is on farm practices that disadvantage people who are non-binary, women, disabled, Black, Indigenous and People of colour. Central to this project is the belief that a sustainable food system is not just one that provides physical and ecological nourishment, but supports social, cultural and political wellbeing too. Read more here.

Hear more about this project from our Deputy CEO, Adele Jones, and researcher Louise Erskine at the 2021 Women Forward International event, The Vanguard [skip to 2:04:00].