Our Organisation Search
Quick Links
Toggle: Topics

AE Footprint

Assessment of agri-environment schemes: the Agri-Environmental Footprint Index (AE-Footprint)

The EU FP6 AE-Footprint project developed an index to measure and compare the environmental impact of schemes by aggregating the measurement of a selected range of agri-environmental indicators that provide farm-level measures of environmental performance. Farm-level performance scores can be aggregated at a regional level to track temporal change and/or to provide comparisons of the impact of an agri-environment scheme on multiple environmental objectives. A User’s Manual was developed to guide the practical implementation of the Agri-Environmental Footprint Index.

As a feasibility study, we used the AFI methodology to assess the environmental performance of farms in two contrasting farming contexts. These were relatively extensive drystock (beef/sheep) farming in Counties Sligo-Leitrim and comparatively intensive dairy farming in Counties Cork-Tipperary. Within each of these farming contexts, AFI scores were calculated for a small sample size (eight to ten) of REPS farms and non-REPS farms. In the Sligo region, the mean (± s.e.) AFI score of the REPS farms (5.74 ± 0.20) was significantly higher (indicating better environmental performance) than that of the non-REPS farms (5.00 ± 0.30). In the Cork region, the mean AFI scores of the REPS farms (4.72± 0.12) was significantly greater than the mean AFI score (3.78 ± 0.15) of the non-REPS farms. The small sample number of farms is not representative of the national-scale REPS. However, this approach demonstrates the feasibility of the AFI method (Louwagie et al. 2012).

The design of a high proportion of agri-environmental policy measures in seven EU countries was based on common sense judgements about their possible impact rather than on documented evidence of the relationship between policy objectives, farming practices and environmental outcomes. Only a sixth of the measures studied were based on well-tested quantitative models of this relationship. The results indicate that the design of a high number of AES is based on a relatively poor evidence base, which makes it difficult to assess the environmental effects and to choose between alternative policy options. They also imply that many schemes based on weak impact models do not enable good evaluation, which means it may be difficult to identify the reasons for any failure and to identify improvements (Primdahl et al. 2010).

Figure 1 Mean (± s.e.) AFI scores for REPS and non-REPS farms in a) Sligo and b) Cork. To facilitate comparison, the different contribution of the natural resources, biodiversity and landscape components are presented. The two case study areas are not directly comparable, due to differences in indicator selection, and the average values are based on samples of ten (Sligo) or eight (Cork) farms per sample.

For further information contact Dr John Finn john.finn(at)teagasc.ie

Further reading

The Agri-Environmental Footprint Index: Users’ Manual. AE-Footprint. (2008) www.footprint.rdg.ac.uk

Louwagie, G., Northey, G., J. Finn and Purvis, G. (2012) Development of indicators for assessment of the environmental impact of livestock farming in Ireland using the Agri-environmental Footprint Index. Ecological Indicators 18: 149-162.

Primdahl, J., J.P. Vesterager, J.A. Finn, G. Vlahos, L. Kristensen and H. Vejre. (2010) Current use of impact models for agri-environmental schemes and potential for improvements of policy design and assessment. Journal of Environmental Management, 91: 1245-1254.

Mortimer, S., Mauchline, A., Park, J., Finn, J., Edwards, D. and Morris, J. (2010) Evaluation of agri-environment and forestry schemes with multiple objectives. EuroChoices, 9: 48-54. (Open Access)

Purvis G., G. Louwagie, G. Northey, S. Mortimer, J. Park, A. Mauchline, J.A. Finn, J. Primdahl, H. Vejre, J.P. Vesterager, K. Knickel, N. Kasperczyk, K. Balázs, G. Vlahos, S. Christopoulos, and J. Peltola. (2009) Conceptual development of a harmonised method for tracking change and evaluating policy in the agri-environment: the Agri-environmental Footprint Index. Environmental Science and Policy, 12: 321-337.

Knickel, K., and Kasperczyk, N. (2009) The Agri-environmental Footprint: Assessing the agri-environmental performance of farms in participatory and regionally adaptive ways. Outlook on Agriculture, 38: 195-203.

Mauchline, A.L., Park, J.R., Finn, J.A. and Mortimer, S.R. (2007) The agri-environmental Footprint Index. Aspects of Applied Biology, 81, 263-266.


This work was made possible by an award from EU Framework 6 to the AE-Footprint project (SSPE-CT-2005-006491).