S1074: Fostering Technologies, Metrics, and Behaviors for Sustainable Advances in Animal Agriculture

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

S1074: Fostering Technologies, Metrics, and Behaviors for Sustainable Advances in Animal Agriculture

Duration: 10/01/2023 to 09/30/2028

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

Food animal production, a vital enterprise in the U.S. rural economy, plays a critical role in food security in the U.S. and globally. Nutritionally, animal sources provide about 70% of the protein in the U.S. diet as meat, eggs, and dairy products (Smit et al., 1999), and contribute almost 11% of caloric intake (Shan et al, 2019). As a leading exporter of animal proteins, the U.S. contributes to a protein supply in many regions of the world. Recent disruptions in protein supply chains worldwide due to COVID-19, African Swine Fever and Avian Influenza have emphasized the critical need for a sustainable food supply resilient to unforeseen vulnerabilities and threats. Projected growth in the global population to 9.7 billion by 2050, a 20% increase compared to 2023 (UNFPA , 2023), will add pressure to current animal food systems to meet the demand for animal proteins. In addition, increased awareness of the environmental impacts associated with human activities, including food animal systems, on climate and water resources have introduced a challenge to food animal systems, i.e., to ensure the preservation of ecosystem services. The need to meet growing demand (with increased productivity) while minimizing the impacts of disruptive events on productivity (with resiliency) and preserving ecosystem services (with environmental sustainability) define the attributes of sustainable intensification. As defined by Pretty and Bharucha (2014), the term “sustainable intensification” describes the ability to increase agricultural output (productivity) with no land-use conversion or adverse environmental impacts. Pursuing sustainable intensification is a continuous, interdisciplinary process that involves various stakeholders with different priorities, perceptions, and needs. Sustainable development was defined, by the United Nations Brundtland Commission (1987), as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” and publications have often cited the dimensions of sustainability as the environment, economics, and society. Sustainable development continues to be a global priority. In 2015, The United Nations established 17 sustainable development goals (UN SDGs) as a shared blueprint to guide the 2030 sustainable development agenda (Lee, 2016). Similarly, the US Department of Agriculture strategic plan (Fiscal years 2022-2023) emphasizes environmental, economic, and social sustainability as key to many of the goals identified by the agency (USDA, 2022). Simultaneously addressing these various dimensions and interactions is a “wicked” problem, which Rittel and Webber (1973) describe as a problem that has “no ‘solution’ in the sense of definitive and objective answers.” This is not to say there cannot be advances to creating or finding solutions. However, making these advances requires intentional collaboration integrating multiple disciplinary skill sets, regional perspectives, and organizational priorities. Bottom line - Intentional collaboration is necessary to pursue advances in sustainable intensification of livestock production in the U.S.

Food animal commodity groups have recognized the need for sustainable intensification and pursued the development and adoption of sustainability benchmarking tools - most notably, life cycle analyses (LCAs) - to quantify environmental impacts. The LCA methodology is internationally standardized (ISO, 2016a, 2016b). Environmental impact categories common to livestock-associated LCAs include global warming potential, acidification potential, eutrophication potential, energy use, land use, and biodiversity. LCA-based impact comparisons are valid for demonstrating reductions in environmental impact measures over time within livestock industries, like analyses by Capper and Cady (2020) for the U.S. dairy industry, Thoma et al. (2018) for U.S. pig production, and Putman et al. (2017) for the poultry industry. Previous studies of egg production systems have variously addressed economic (Matthew et al, 2015), social (Pelletier, 2018), and environmental considerations (Pelletier, 2017; Wiedemann, 2011), but did not effectively integrate the assessment for these three pillars of sustainability. These studies, and others, were national in scale yet considered regional practices and were used to evaluate industry impacts and inform methodical goal-setting for the future. Similarly, these assessments have been integrated into decision-support tools (DSTs) whereby users can quantify potential impacts of management changes on sector-wide performance. Generally speaking, multi-criteria sustainability assessment and DSTs are critical to support the animal industries in successfully navigating the complex problems that emerge at the intersection of environmental, socio-economic, and animal welfare concerns. Inevitably, however, sector-wide assessments and decision-making rely on abstractions and averaging of both input data and impacts. Relying on sector-wide, aggregated observations from sector-wide LCAs to inform farm-level decisions is not always appropriate. As such, different commodity groups have relied on the LCA approach to develop calculators and tools that operate at the farm level. These tools are aimed at facilitating farm-level data collection to aid sector-wide benchmarking as well as informing and empowering farm-level decision making to achieve reductions in environmental impacts. Examples of such tools include COMET-FARM (USDA-NRCS) and Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (F.A.R.M.) Environmental Stewardship module (FARM, 2020). The uptake of these tools and calculators by farmers is usually not high. Some of the reasons include time and training requirements to ensure their correct and sustained use, distrust in how assessments are made, i.e., modeling calculations and coefficients, as well as concern over the interpretation and use of generated assessments. Bottom Line - Trust and representation in farm-level sustainability metric calculation methods are critical to advancing adoption and achieving sector-level goals.

 Sustainable advances in animal agriculture can use existing, innovative, or future technologies at the field, barn, or (the farm) system level. However, in the interconnected system that is a farm, rarely are there solutions that wholly reduce environmental impacts and are economically viable. For example, Beauchemin et al. (2008) reviewed enteric methane abatement strategies for dairy cows and demonstrated positive and negative consequences within the broader farm system, including production efficiency, manure characteristics, and cost, but also noted a general lack of long-term research. A multi-year assessment of technologies to advance swine manure management in the Southeastern U.S. (North Carolina) (Williams, 2009) identified several potential technologies and quantified environmental gains and related economic costs associated with their adoption. However, the diffusion and adoption of proven or promising technologies and practices on farms depend on many factors, as Rogers (2003) noted. Kuehne et al. (2017) developed ADOPT, a model that predicts the speed and peak level of adoption by farmers of new practices based on 22 variables related to the practice, population, learning, and relative advantage. In investigating willingness to adopt precision farming tools, Vecchio et al. (2020) stressed respective contexts for involved groups in informing their willingness to change practices. Furthermore, they highlighted the successes of a bottom-up approach, i.e., a participatory model, in agricultural innovation. This is particularly relevant to food animal systems, where diverse stakeholder groups with diverging backgrounds and contexts are involved in shaping perceptions, practices, and outcomes. As such, outreach and extension efforts need to be cognizant of these intricacies and the critical need for a safe space to allow multiple perspectives to be articulated and integrated into consensus-based innovation process. Bottom Line - A participatory model of engagement is critical to incorporate multiple perspectives and disciplines into the process of designing for sustainability in food animal systems.

 In summary, these needs prompt the development of a nimble, intentional collaboration with a focus of advancing sustainability at the farm level by increasing access, trust, and opportunities for innovative technologies and practices. The mission of this project team remains similar to past projects: to ensure the growth of sustainable agricultural systems by fostering the development of inter‐ and trans‐ disciplinary networks of scientists and professionals (biologists, sociologists, economists, engineers, etc.) who embrace the multitude of perspectives offered. These networks are better positioned to forecast potential trajectories and agricultural outcomes in an environment that allows for vetting of competing perspectives and approaches. Building on past experiences, the team proposes new objectives aligned with this mission.

Related, Current and Previous Work

Related work on sustainability

Between 2020 and present, each of the four major U.S. livestock commodity organizations (beef, dairy, pork, and poultry) and the feed industry have published environmentally-related sustainability goals that serve as “destinations”. In this context, the term “destination” denotes overarching principles guiding improvements such as commitments to diversity, public health, food safety, and safeguarding the environment, as well as quantitative benchmarks, i.e., reductions in inputs or impacts by a time horizon. Sustainable agricultural production is a wicked problem, in part, because of differing goals not only across commodity organizations, but also within supply chains that food animals reside. Differing goals and priorities require different metrics. Example goals by the livestock commodity organizations and the feed industry are presented below.

Beef:   The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRFSB) is a multi-stakeholder initiative developed to advance, support, and communicate continuous improvement in sustainability of the U.S. beef value chain. This initiative identified six high-priority indicators of sustainability across the sector (i.e., cow/calf, confined feeding operations, packers/processors, and retail sectors). These indicators encompass: [1] air and greenhouse gas emissions, [2] land resources, [3] water resources, [4] employee safety and wellbeing, [5] animal health and wellbeing, and [6] efficiency and yield. USRSB released its Indicator Development Report (USRSB, 2019). Among the indicators in the cow-calf and feedlot sectors are [a] strategies to manage water resources to address conservation and quality, [b] documentation of operational efficiency over time, [c] management of air emissions (including greenhouse gases) and [d] implementation of nutrient management. However, it is unclear yet how these indicators are tracked or reported e.g., per calf born, per unit feed or water input, per pound of beef produced, per animal on feed, etc.

Dairy: The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy supports socially responsible, economically viable, and environmentally sound dairy food systems that promote the current and future health and well-being of consumers, communities, cows, employees, businesses, and the planet. The Center includes the dairy supply chain (from farm inputs to retail outputs and customers) as well as government agencies. Six key areas are highlighted: people and community; environmental stewardship; animal care; food safety; global insights and innovation; and nutrition, wellness, and food security. The Stewardship and Sustainability Framework for U.S. Dairy production serves as the primary industry resource for dairy producers, cooperatives, and processors to demonstrate the industry’s commitment to customers and key stakeholders (ICUSD, 2016). The Framework identifies relevant measures to assess sustainability (indicators), the metric for measurement (the units for numerators and denominators), and intensity metrics to normalize findings and track progress over time. In 2020, the Innovation Center announced the Net Zero Initiative (NZI), wherein GHG neutrality is an industry-wide 2050 environmental stewardship goal, in addition to optimizing water use and recycling and Improving water quality by optimizing utilization of manure and nutrients (US Dairy, 2022). The results of LCAs for fluid milk, cheese and whey, and greenhouse gases contributed to the Stewardship and Sustainability Framework (Henderson et al., 2012; Thoma et al., 2010; 2013).

Pork:   The National Pork Board (NPB) announced its industry sustainability goals and metrics in 2022. This effort, led by producers, is a collaborative effort funded by the Pork Checkoff and the National Pork Producers Council to identify goals and metrics for sustainability. These goals focus on: worker training, animal wellbeing, environment, public health, food safety, and community welfare. The sustainability initiative identified quantitative metrics that align with each goal that will be tracked along the entire sector. The effort identified 2015 as a baseline year against which the sector will seek to decrease its footprint. In addition, the goals specify a 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 from a 2015 baseline. A third-party consultant, Sustainable Environmental Consultants (SEC), aids producers in gathering data required for reporting, running the model, EcoPractices Platform, and interpreting the sustainability report for strengths and opportunities for improvement. The model builds on the USDA NRCS COMET farm tool for tracking carbon and GHG emissions.

Poultry: The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Poultry & Eggs (US-RSPE) was established to advance continuous improvements in sustainability across the value-chain. USRSPE published its sustainability framework in 2022. This roundtable framework extends beyond production to processors, retailers, and food service companies as well as NGOs and civil society groups. The USRSPE has published a draft of its sustainability framework and indicators outlining 15 indicators across three pillars, i.e., people, planet, and poultry, to track the sector performance. Included in these indicators are energy use, GHG emissions, air quality and waste related indicators. No quantitative commitments are specified in the framework as announced.

 Feed: The Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER), a foundation established by the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), has established a sustainability framework and set of resources (toolkits) to assist members in tracking performance. In addition, IFEEDER contributes to the Global Metrics for Sustainable Feed life cycle database which tracks impacts associated with raw feed material production across the globe.

 As demonstrated above, sustainability definitions, tracking, and goal-setting vary across commodities and sectors. Participation by individual growers is key to ensuring transparent data sharing, which is critical for identifying necessary changes to practices. Various organizations invested in pursuing farm-scale sustainable practices experience varying degrees of resistance/acceptance by producers. This is a significant barrier facing the continuous improvement path. In addition, there continues to be a disconnect between sector-wide assessments by commodity groups for various purposes (including promotion) and identifying region-specific, farm-specific hotspots or unique needs to become more sustainable. We subscribe to the definition that sustainable agriculture is an integrated system of food production, with site-specific applications, that can continue over long periods of time. Because our modern food production system often is not self-contained at any one site, a system of metrics that can collectively indicate the level of sustainability is needed, especially one which considers the system as a whole.

Related NIMSS projects

A NIMSS database search revealed 27 regional projects with some relation to the proposed replacement project. The most connected projects to our scope (total of eight projects) are listed below.

  1. NC1211: Precision management of animals for improved care, health, and welfare of livestock and poultry. The project aims to (1) develop, validate, and evaluate sensor, instrumentation, controls and related hardware systems applied to livestock and poultry production; and (2) apply data science, data analytic, and other software techniques to big data collected from animal facilities to create usable information for assessments and improvements in welfare, engineering, genetic, and management of animals.

  2. NC2042: Management systems to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of dairy enterprises. The project aims to (1) optimize calf and heifer growth and development; (2) optimize dairy cow performance and well-being; (3) evaluate whole farm system components and integrate information and technology to improve efficiency, profitability, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility.

  3. NC214: Increased efficiency of sheep production. The project aims to (1) develop and evaluate methods to improve reproductive efficiency; (2) develop strategies to improve efficiency of lean lamb growth and meat quality; (3) evaluate genetic resources, nutrient requirements and production systems for lamb, wool and milk production; and (4) develop profitable and sustainable production systems that address grazing strategies for animal health and well-being, and for ecosystem health, biological control of invasive plants and wildfire mitigation.

  4. NCCC308: Nutrition and management of feedlot cattle to optimize performance, carcass value and environmental compatibility. The project aims to (1) enhance the utilization of C from energy feeds to compete in an energy economy and improve national food security; (2) enhance the environmental sustainability of the feedlot industry through conservation and nutrient management; (3) enhance the production efficiency and quality of feedlot cattle through management strategies and technologies; and (4) enhance management strategies that improves animal health and well-being.

  5. NCERA219: Swine production management to enhance animal welfare. The project aims to assess the welfare, health and efficiency of swine production systems particularly regarding space allocation, technology utilization, and sustainable strategies, and develop and disseminate relevant educational materials in various forms to audiences.

  6. NE1942 : Enhancing poultry production systems through emerging technologies and husbandry practices. The project aims to (1) integrate technological advances into poultry systems; and (2) establish and adopt husbandry practices to a changing industry landscape.

  7. W4170: Beneficial use of residuals to improve soil health and protect public, and ecosystem health The project has two objectives: (1) evaluate the short- and long-term fate, bioavailability and persistence of trace organic contaminants (TOrCs) with an emphasis on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and pathogens in residuals, reclaimed water, and amended soils to aid in assessing and minimizing environmental and human health risks from their application at a watershed scale; and (2) evaluate and optimize the uses and associated environmental benefits of residuals and wastewaters applied to various ecosystems (e.g., agricultural, urban, recreational, forest, rangeland, mine-impacted, other anthropogenic) on soil physical, chemical, and biological properties and plant nutrition, health, and yield.

  8. WERA1014: Intensive Management of Irrigated Forages for Sustainable Livestock Production in the Western U.S.: The project aims to (1) conduct an annual review of current research and extension programming in the western region specific to cultivated, irrigated forage systems or as integrated components of rangeland forage-livestock systems, and compile/update a list to be shared among all participants; (2) based on the above review, identify emerging issues and opportunities related to cultivated, irrigated forages and forage-livestock systems in the western region, prioritize those issues, and then work cooperatively to develop regional proposals and apply for grants to support both research and outreach activities; and (3) identify colleagues and stakeholders working with cultivated, irrigated forages and forage-livestock systems within the region for inclusion in the project, and mentor early-career colleagues.


History and Successes of S1074

Most of the current participants for this proposal were part of S1074 - Future Challenges in Animal Production Systems: Seeking Solutions through Focused Facilitation. Four synergistic successes for S1074 were:

  • Engaging the Next Generation - Cohorts of graduate students actively tackled five challenges (details are available upon request) that impact animal production systems with novel approaches and shared their creations with stakeholders from across the U.S. Since its inception, five cohort groups (a total of 67 graduate students) participated. As the next generation of scientists to tackle national and global issues, the participating students gained insight through experience to engage successfully with individuals from other disciplines. These insights captured transdisciplinary work through exercises in systems thinking, stakeholder engagement, a topical subject matter, and high performing team development. In addition to team science skills, the S-1074 and INFEWSer (National Science Foundation Awards 1639340 and 1833225) projects provided the students with expanded networks of peers, faculty, and stakeholders, and vice versa.

  • Assessing and Addressing Nutrient Imbalance - S-1074 has collectively authored a peer-reviewed article, Identifying Nutrient Imbalance in Animal Agriculture Systems (Sharara et al., 2022) which defined core concepts in measuring nutrient balance, assessing strengths and weaknesses of alternative approaches, and developed recommendations for future directions in scientific and application endeavors. Quantifying nutrient fluxes and balances in animal/feed production systems is essential in order to identify farms and regions with challenging nutrient imbalances, assess animal agriculture’s circularity, and inform interventions. This deliverable has been instructive to animal industry stakeholders in defining research priorities to improve nutrient cycling in the pork production system.

  • Collaborations with Other Theme-Focused Groups- Collaborations were win-win propositions to both increase visibility of S-1074 within existing networks and teams as well as introduce our group to other teams working in this space. In 2022, the annual S-1074 team meeting was held in tandem with the bi-annual Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community (LPELC) Waste to Worth conference. In the past, S-1074 has co-organized webinars with LPELC, allowing the team to reach an audience more than double an internal webinar (i.e., above 9,000 producers per year). S-1074 members also assumed organizational roles within LPELC’s network and have effectively expanded its reach to practitioners and experts in emerging areas of interest to food animal production, including carbon market experts and sustainability networks. Similarly, S-1074 has successfully engaged with the USDA Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) Network team working on advancing manure management in a national context. Through a workshop session, our respective teams learned more about research activities and expertise within each group. Both teams also engaged in brainstorming sessions to identify priorities and needs as well as collaboration opportunities. Several S-1074 groups have since remained in contact with LTAR Manureshed group members and coordinated research and demonstration sites.

  • Evidence-based recommendations developed by S-1074 members are being utilized by individuals and organizations to clarify understanding of food animal systems and their environmental impacts. Regulatory agencies at state and federal levels engage regularly with our community members for guidance on routine and emerging topics related to food animal production sustainability.


  1. Build Engagement Platforms.
    Comments: We will build platforms for intentional collaboration among project members and collaborators to inform shared goals to improve sustainability opportunities and actions, identify research and education needs in sustainability, and disseminate research findings.
  2. Assess Sustainability Assessment Tools.
    Comments: We will apply and assess the existing and proposed sustainability assessment metrics for the animal industries to identify gaps in assessment tools, promote interoperability of the sustainability assessment frameworks, and benchmark the sustainability and resiliency of animal agriculture systems.
  3. Appraise Technology.
    Comments: We will assemble and appraise technologies across the animal agriculture spectrum to facilitate proposals for new technology development and promote the adoption of mature technologies.


Individual farms are the focal point for sustainability assessment and actions in this project. While the proposed platforms for engagement do not directly involve all individual farms in the U.S., the activities are designed to strengthen research and programming that team members and stakeholders can integrate with their regional and/or local constituents. Furthermore, the platforms promote consideration of the broader spectrum of animal and farm types to inform broader level discussions, identify opportunities, and support regional or national-level decision-making.

Objective 1. Build Engagement Platforms

We will build platforms for engagement among project members and collaborators to inform shared goals to improve sustainability opportunities and actions, identify research and education needs in sustainability, and disseminate research findings.

The three tasks described below outline the three proposed platforms to develop and operate in tandem. They are organizational in nature but necessary to facilitate sustained progress by a national team.

Task 1A. Build a Community of Practice

We will build a community of practice to exchange knowledge, define shared goals, assess opportunities and needs, and disseminate information. Sustainability of animal agriculture transcends the expertise of the individual members of this project team and must be approached from a systems perspective with focused engagement among experts. A Community of Practice (COP) is “informally bound by what they do together…and by what they have learned through their mutual engagement in these activities” (Wenger, 2008). Wenger (2008) describes the three dimensions for a COP as:

  • Joint enterprise - What it is about, subject to continuous renegotiation
  • Mutual engagement - How it functions and binds members together into a social entity
  • Shared repertoire - What capability it has produced through sharing and development of communal resources

The communities we intend to engage among animal agriculture stakeholders represent academics, industry, commodity organizations, and governmental (state) agencies with shared goals to improve sustainability opportunities and actions. We will build the COP through invited presentations and discussions during our quarterly team webinars or annual meetings and participate, where appropriate, in our network member’s existing activities. This task ensures outward-facing (relative to the project team) collaboration.

We will continue to strengthen existing ties established in prior iterations of this project team. For example, the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community (LPELC, https://lpelc.org/), is a learning network of professionals across North America whose interests and expertise relate to animal agriculture and environmental stewardship. The S1074 project team has held meetings in conjunction with the LPELC-sponsored Waste to Worth conference in previous years. The S1074 project team co-hosted webinars produced by the LPELC to provide learning opportunities on relevant topics for the team but also the broader LPELC webinar audience of service providers across North America. Under this five-year project, effort will focus on co-hosting webinars that feature allied network connections and advancements. This tie is a prime example of joint enterprise, mutual engagement, and shared repertoire - the dimensions of a community of practice.

We have identified at least 20 NIMSS teams with objectives that intersect with S1074’s focus on sustainable animal agriculture. We will pursue relationships with some of these teams through virtual and live engagement opportunities to facilitate robust and collegial pursuit of sustainability advancements that merge broader aspects of animal agriculture (e.g., animal nutrition, animal health and well-being, environmental contaminant fate and transport, One Health, genetics, etc.).

Further, the project team will explore opportunities to work with new partners like the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, which holds conferences on topics that cut across commodities. These professional development and conference activities allow S1074 to invite industry stakeholders to participate in the flow of information from research to practice and back again. A workshop planning team including non-academic stakeholders will be established to meet regularly to plan a workshop aligned with Objective 2. The team will establish a web portal that is accessible by COP members.

Task 1B. Host a Potluck

We will host an annual, themed “potluck” to promote COP dimensions of joint enterprise, mutual engagement, and shared repertoire, while advancing Objectives 2 and 3. Familiarly, a potluck is an event where guests bring something to share. For S1074, the potluck will be a dedicated theme-focused session (including break-out group discussions) during the project annual meeting. The S1074 project team has long promoted success among members by sharing best practices and collaborating on opportunities. Building on past experience, we want a purposeful collaborative structure for holistic growth that transcends geographic and disciplinary boundaries, enhancing the team’s technical capability and funding opportunities for research Extension, and education activites. Convening team members and other interested COP members for facilitated, themed discussions will encourage sharing of experiences that have proved impactful.

Themes for each potluck will be determined by the multi-state project team leadership to advance efforts in Objectives 2 and 3. Like any potluck, individual contributions for consumption will vary and could include sharing of research, Extension, education, or other activities. The final structure of the potluck may change, but one approach is to moderate “lightning rounds” where each member has five minutes to present. This potluck structure will support compilation and sharing of team member activity updates for annual reports.

 As with any potluck, the individual contributions and sharing of ideas are important, but success comes from the collegiality and idea generation post consumption. Facilitated discussions will prioritize ideas for sustainability advancements. This could include pursuing external funding support, translating current activities to broader geographical regions or across species, and/or organization of dissemination opportunities to broader audiences via the COP.

Task 1C. Create a Scenario Set

We will build and maintain a set or shared repertoire of scenarios to facilitate awareness, evaluation and dissemination of sustainability metrics and technologies to regional farms. This platform is a facilitation tool for focused analysis, comparison, and discussion within the team.

The scenario set will include up to 10 US farm scenarios selected by project members to cover beef, swine, dairy, and poultry production. The scenario farms are not intended to represent every farm in the US, or even specific ones, but rather a range of situations that highlight variability in farm structure, management, and scale. The scenarios provide means for project members to transmit local knowledge into, and results out of, the project to local constituents. These scenarios, with social, economic, and environmental dimensions, allow for focused discussions and application of sustainability initiatives (Objective 2) and technologies (Objective 3). Applying our thinking to this discrete set of scenarios is the practice ground for developing the flexible thinking needed to approach specific farms. An example of high-tech model is the Virtual Farm Dairy (Fabian-Wheeler et al, 2018), hosted by Pennsylvania State University and partially funded by USDA (URL: https://virtualfarm.psu.edu/virtual-farm). This virtual farm demonstrates small and large dairy farm scenarios, for which environmental, social, and economic assessments are evaluated and presented. Task 1C will build the base scenario set into an accessible set of physical, environmental and economic data describing practices, yields, and needs using currently available datasets/resources. The implementation of interactive models to assess their performance, however, will require pursuit of external funding.

Each local farm in the scenario set will have a team lead familiar with the local area and farmer experiences. Team members are encouraged to form local, multi-disciplinary teams to aid in analysis of local scenarios. Local team members could include, but are not limited to: agricultural economists, veterinarians, nutritionists, soil scientists, engineers, local commodity organizations, and farmers. Ideally, the team lead will also have some data and/or publications to refine the scenario, but we recognize data availability will be variable and therefore a potential gap for further research.

An example farm in the scenario set is a 3,000 head wean-to-finish swine barn in southeast South Dakota with deep pit manure storage. The farmer is a contract grower, meaning the farmer owns and operates the barn and manages the manure, but the feed and animals are owned/supplied by an integrator company. Climate data is available from the local weather station. The farmer owns and farms one quarter section of cropland acres (160 acres; 65 ha), and works a full-time job off-farm. There are biosecurity threats given the density of pig production in the region.

Other example farms in the scenario set are: 

  • A 4,000-head dairy in Central Texas
  • A 500,000-bird layer operation in Ohio
  • A 200,000 broiler operation in Georgia
  • A 2,000-head beef cattle feedlot in Nebraska
  • A 3,000 head Farrow-to-wean (sow) swine operation in Sampson County, North Carolina
  • A 999-head finishing cattle barn in central Minnesota

The team will refine the scenario set once the initial project team is established.

Objective 2. Assess Sustainability Assessment Tools

We will apply and assess the existing and proposed sustainability assessment metrics for the animal industries to identify gaps in assessment tools, promote interoperability of the sustainability assessment frameworks, and benchmark the sustainability and resiliency of animal agriculture systems.

This objective uses the platforms developed in Objective 1 for purposes of applying and assessing sustainability assessment tools in the animal agriculture space. 

Task 2A. Apply

We will apply the existing and/or proposed sustainability assessment metrics for the animal industries to the Scenario Set farms (Task 1C). We recognize there are many aspects to the development and utilization of benchmarks in the animal industry, including: data gathering, data entry, modeling, translation, interpretation, and application. Furthermore, we are aware that each animal industry employs different techniques. This task promotes awareness of these assessment method aspects amongst team/COP members, engages industry representatives through shared interests, and facilitates deeper understanding for assessment in Task 2B.

As part of Task 1A, we will host guest speakers who are directly involved in development or utilization of benchmarks in the animal industry during at least one quarterly team session annually throughout the project period. This will strengthen our team/COP’s knowledge on the basis/motivation for choices in metric development and provide opportunities for team members to share insights gained through facilitation tool exercises. These interactions are an opportunity to share back what we glean from our facilitation tool exercise and to explore gaps. The Scenario set is also a basis for applying methodologies developed for a specific commodity to farms of other commodity types to inform Task 2B.

Task 2B. Assess

We will convene one workshop during the annual meeting to assess various commodity-driven assessments in terms of data needs, impact categories, and alignment with priorities captured using a SWOT analysis.

Sustainability plans are long-term strategies that are subject to change and adjustment. Prior to each annual meeting and in conjunction with Task 2A, a small team will aggregate the latest renditions of livestock industry sustainability plans and summarize the initiatives in a table for broader group discussion. The focus will be on environmental-related initiatives, with acknowledgment of social and economic aspects in the respective initiatives. The workshop will delineate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). The project team provides cross-species and cross-region perspectives as part of the SWOT analysis. The Scenario Set provides case study scenarios to demonstrate application of the initiative metrics. 

To facilitate assessment, example guiding questions for consideration in the SWOT analysis include:

  • How accessible is the required farm data in the assessment?
  • How intuitive/accessible is data entry in the assessment tool. We recognize some livestock industries facilitate assessments through third parties, and this can be considered in the SWOT analysis.
  • What are the models that estimate sustainability metrics? For example, what is the manure emission calculation process?
  • How are results communicated to users?
  • How does the process or assessment promote advancement of sustainability?

The summarized SWOT analysis, a deliverable of the annual meeting, can guide future discussions within the COP and foster grant proposals for both research and Extension.

Objective 3. Appraise Technology

We will assemble and appraise technologies across the animal agriculture spectrum to facilitate proposals for new technology development and promote adoption of mature technologies that align with sustainability objectives. This objective uses the platforms developed in Objective 1 for purposes of assembling and appraising technologies with potential to advance animal agriculture sustainability. 

Task 3A. Assemble

We will assemble existing and missing technology through routine engagement with the team/COP, but specifically through the potluck. Technology is a broad category but in this context we specifically use it to reference additional actions beyond business-as-usual taken by producers, and/or promoted by a third-party provider, for purposes that may include reduced environmental impact, gaining efficiencies, traceability, emergency management, data collection, etc. A unique advantage of this multi-state project is that many team members have extension appointments and play a critical role in bridging industry with academia. This allows Task 3A to be conducted/integrated in both ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ manners. The former (‘vertical’) will be the continuation and further strengthening of the team members’ existing extension duties, featuring the interaction with state or regional industry stakeholders and technical teams and the collection of various types of information (e.g., technology needs concerning carbon footprint calculation and biosecurity). Team members from the same state or neighboring states will meet quarterly for information exchange and collective discussions. An inventory of state- or region-specific technology needs will therefore be compiled as an outcome of this task. The latter (‘horizontal’) will include the establishment of sub-teams (within this multi-state project team) based on the specialty of team members (e.g., air quality, manure management, and life cycle assessment). The sub-teams will be encouraged to meet biannually to share updates and identify priority technology needs in respective specialty areas.

Task 3B. Appraise and Document

We will appraise existing and missing technology through routine engagement with the team/COP and via the Scenario Set. Application of technologies to Scenario Sets, and accompanying sustainability metrics, fosters a holistic appraisal of technologies from environmental, economic, and social perspectives.

During the annual S1074 meeting, each sub-team will meet to review technical needs aggregated from state or regional efforts, prioritize the needs in the sub-team’s specialty area, and refine the methodology and toolkits for effective solicitation of specialty area information from industry stakeholders and technical teams. The refined methodology and toolkits will be distributed to assist other S1074 team members (with relatively less specialty knowledge) in solicitation of relevant information. At the end of the project period, a white paper will be developed to summarize sustainability-aligned technology needs that were identified from the above efforts, with resulting paper circulated within and beyond this multi-state project team for rigorous review before being published.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Evolving, shared repertoire shared via the COP web portal and the annual report. Comments: Repertoire includes: Webinars featuring industry stakeholders and other NIMSS team participants (Task 1A), Animal agriculture sustainability guidance from COP members (Task 1A), Potluck summaries (Task 1B), Scenario Set (Task 1C) with metrics (Task 2A) and potential technologies (Task 3B)
  • Research/Extension collaborations and grant proposals using shared vision of COP members (evolving primarily from Task 1B, Task 2B, and Task 3B)
  • SWOT analyses (Task 2B)
  • White paper (Task 3A)
  • A workshop dedicated to animal industry sustainability metrics, hosted in conjunction with a partner organization like LPELC or NIAA

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • • Team/COP members mutually engage in joint enterprise by shaping directions for advancing animal agriculture sustainability beyond those proposed in this proposal. Progress/results toward short-term outcome measured by descriptive and qualitative descriptions of papers, proposals or other projects emanating from this project. Short-term outcome
  • • Team/COP members have a shared repertoire of example farms and related sustainability metrics to support local, regional and national conversations about animal agriculture sustainability across the US. Progress/results toward short-term outcome documented through descriptive and qualitative use of the scenario sets. Short-term outcome
  • • Team/COP members have shared repertoire regarding existing and potential technologies with analyses and outreach content that support application or dissemination by members. Progress/results toward short-term outcome documented through descriptive and qualitative use of educational material. Short-term outcome
  • • Demonstrated increases in participation in sustainability initiatives by animal agriculture farms in the US that are precipitated, in part, through engagement with Team/COP members who have shared repertoire and knowledge to aid decision-making. Progress/results toward medium-term outcome documented through surveys of participants in outreach events by Team/COP members. Medium‐term Outcomes
  • • Demonstrated advancements in technologies that are precipitated in part through engagement with Team/COP members who exercise joint negotiation and mutual engagement. Progress/results toward medium-term outcome documented through surveys of participants in outreach events by Team/COP members. Medium‐term Outcomes
  • • Demonstrated improvements in sustainability of animal agriculture, improved metrics for benchmarking sustainability. Long term outcomes are not wholly expected in the five-year project timeframe, but we (in consultation with stakeholders) will report the project's role in updates to sustainability metrics as furnished by commodity organizations over the project period. Long‐term Outcomes
  • • Successful introduction of new technologies into the marketplace based on practical utility and demonstrated environmental benefit. Long term outcomes are not wholly expected in the five-year project timeframe, but we (in consultation with stakeholders) will report the evolution and use of technologies that support sustainability goals on livestock farms. Long‐term Outcomes


(1):Scenario Set established, Quarterly virtual team meetings each year, Potluck summaries and annual reports

(2):SWOT analyses conducted, Quarterly virtual team meetings each year, Potluck summaries and annual reports

(3):Technology needs inventory, Quarterly virtual team meetings each year, Potluck summaries and annual reports

(4):SWOT analyses conducted, Quarterly virtual team meetings each year, Potluck summaries and annual reports,

(5):White paper development and dissemination, Quarterly virtual team meetings each year, Potluck summaries and annual reports

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

This project is designed around two way communication and outreach between the project team and stakeholders, as a community of practice. Active sharing for COP growth and development will be accomplished in the face to face and online meeting forums (Objective 1), and shared online platforms (i.e. Google Drive). Results of research findings will be presented at various professional society meetings, published as white papers or in appropriate journals. The LPELC collaboration provides a ready outlet for stakeholder engagement and result dissemination via webinars and conferences. Furthermore, the scenario sets will provide consistent examples for outreach via case studies pertinent to multiple audiences.


An Executive Committee will convene to oversee coordination of project team members, and ensure equal access and communication . The Executive Committee will consist of a Chair, Chair‐elect, and Secretary. The chair of the committee is responsible for organizing the annual meeting agenda, conducting the meeting and assuring that task assignments are completed. The Chair is elected for a one‐year term. Chairs are eligible for re‐election. The Chair‐elect normally succeeds the Chair, and is expected to support the Chair by carrying out duties assigned by the Chair. The Chair‐elect serves as the Chair in the absence of the elected Chair. The Chair‐elect is elected for one year. The Chair‐elect is eligible for re‐election. The Chair‐elect is responsible for overseeing virtual communication mechanisms. The Secretary is responsible for keeping records on decisions made at meetings (keeping the minutes), maintaining an updated roster of participants (as a list server), and assisting in the preparation of the accomplishments report (i.e., the SAES‐422). The Secretary normally succeeds the Chair. Secretaries are eligible for re‐election.All members agree to carry out the agreed research collaboration, research coordination, information exchange, or advisory activities. The project members are responsible for reporting progress, contributing to the ongoing progress of the activity, and communicating their accomplishments to the committee’s members and their respective employing institutions.

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