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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: A Simple Performance-Based Index for Assessing Multiple Agroecosystem Functions.

Authors
item Liebig, Mark
item Varvel, Gary
item Doran, John

Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 1, 2001
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Approaches are needed to determine the relative sustainability of agricultural practices. One approach is to use indices that include information about crop and soil characteristics. To this end, an indexing approach using a simple ranking procedure and a relative scoring method was developed.**The approach was applied to data from a long-term cropping systems experiment in the western Corn Belt. The index was able to discriminate between conventional and alternative cropping system treatments when information about crop productivity and quality, soil carbon storage, and nutrient retention was included in the approach.**The simplicity, inclusiveness, and inherent flexibility of the indexing approach can be considered benefits or drawbacks, depending on the point of view taken. Data requirements of the approach, however, are stringent. Consequently, it may only be applicable for use with data from long-term agricultural experiments.

Technical Abstract: Evaluating the impact agricultural practices on agroecosystem functions is essential to determine the sustainability of management systems. This paper presents an approach to determine the relative sustainability of agricultural practices. A simple ranking procedure using a relative scoring method is proposed to discriminate among treatments based on the status of crop and soil parameters within different agroecosystem functions. Summing scores across agroecosystem functions allows for identification of agricultural practices that are performing optimally based on functions included in the procedure.**An example, using data from a long-term cropping systems experiment in the western Corn Belt, found the indexing procedure to successfully discern differences in overall performance across four agroecosystem functions between conventional (continuous corn cropping sequence at a fertilization rate of 180 kg N per ha) and alternative (corn - oat and clover - grain sorghum - soybean cropping sequence at a fertilization rate of 90 kg N per ha) management systems.**The simplicity, inclusiveness, and inherent flexibility of the indexing procedure can be considered benefits or drawbacks, depending on the point of view taken. Data requirements of the approach, however, are stringent. Consequently, it may only be applicable for use with data from long-term agroecosystem experiments.

Last Modified: 4/17/2014
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