From a strategic management point of view enhancing sustainability is the main goal for the development of integrated agricultural product chains. For the quantification of sustainability already several relevant, reliable, quantifiable indicators are available (see e.g. www.sustainabilityindicators.org): As economic indicators of sustainability are used: return on investment, exit/entry ratios, flexibility of the production system and by-product utilization. Social indicators of sustainability are consumer’s willingness to pay for sustainable products, social equity/community inclusion of agriculture, quality of life for farming families, share of disposable income of consumers spent on food. As environmental indicators of sustainability use of renewable resources relative to total resource use, tons of soil erosion per unit of production, earthworm and microbial activity per acre, share of open-pollinated plants relative to hybrid and genetically modified varieties, balance between the number of animals on the land and ability of land to use nutrients are available.
Indicators should reflect a vision of agriculture which fulfills specific core characteristics (based on Beets, 1990, Fig. 7). With a relatively moderate input the output should be moderate to high while respecting environmental demands. The economic output of a farm should have the ability to react elastic to perturbations by environmental or economical disasters. After longer lasting stresses caused by diverse reasons the farm should recover from that stress without loosing its production potential. Such characteristics should afford stable income and allow in case of high social responsibility adequate salaries (Fig. 8).
A responsible use of resources, including the human potential “labor”, supports the sustainable direction of rural development: The recent concentration of farms to larger and larger ones, combined with increasing mechanization destroys huge amounts of jobs especially for people with no or low school degrees.
This interferes with societal stability. More jobs in agriculture for fair salaries are a societal demand in the future. Providing more jobs slightly increases inputs for management and capital. Best Agricultural Practices including Best Techniques Available will maintain or even increase the productivity of farmland. Modern agricultural production systems will depend on higher inputs of energy. This energy should be produced from renewable resources and not longer from fossile sources.
Conducted by these ideas the Best Agricultural Practice Concept will define the way for decision makers to look for solutions which can be transferred into Good Agricultural Practice Standards and be applied as common agricultural practices in the future.