Economics has been a secondary concern to environmental efforts within the agricultural sustainability movement; however, economics may be a key determinant of sustainability adoption. Consequently, due consideration should be given to the economics of sustainability. Arguably, there are two generic paradigms regarding sustainability economics: 1) economic viability as a prerequisite to successful sustainability; 2) economic enhancement as a product of sustainability. Many of the core tenets from both paradigms are derived from resource and environmental economics, thus this section offers a survey of the relevant academic literature paired with outreach publications focused on providing actionable insights.


Ayres, R. U. (2008). Sustainability economics: Where do we stand? Ecological Economics,   67(2), 281-310. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2007.12.009

  • A lengthy piece on the state of sustainability economics. Key issues resulting from shortcomings in traditional market mechanisms are explored and opportunities for sustainability economics are discussed. The article also addresses the interface of economics and regulations with respect to sustainability. Concludes that sustainability economics will require a union between resource and environmental economics.


Bartelmus, P. (2010). Use and usefulness of sustainability economics. Ecological Economics, 69(11), 2053-2055. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.06.019

  • A brief review on the origins and values of sustainability economics. Discusses utility from sustainability that is difficult to monetize, which creates an obstacle to accurately reflect the impacts from sustainability. Asserts that sustainability economics should limit efforts to those areas that can be monetized.


Batie, S. S. (1989). Sustainable Development: Challenges to the Profession of Agricultural Economics. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 71(5), 1083-1101.

  • An early description of budding agricultural sustainability and the implications for agricultural economists. Explores parameters and utility that transcend the traditional scope of economics. Frames sustainability as common ground between economists and developers.


Baumgärtner, S., & Quaas, M. (2010). Sustainability economics — General versus specific, and conceptual versus practical. Ecological Economics, 69(11), 2056-2059. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.06.018

  • This paper draws largely from the economics community view on sustainability economics, thus agricultural sustainability is not directly addressed. Core tenets of sustainability economics are captured along with a comparison between sustainability economics as an academic exercise versus an altruistic platform. Argues that sustainability economics is a selective fusion of concepts from sustainability and economics.


Brodt, S., Six, J., Feenstra, G., Ingels, C., & Campbell, D. (2011). Sustainable Agriculture. 

  • A cursory look at the global issues pertaining to sustainable agriculture. The article starts by framing a historical context and establishing the core tenets: environment, society, and economy. Upon providing a baseline for the reader, the article embarks on a survey of implications to natural resources. Lastly, the article captures the shortcomings and opportunities of sustainable agriculture to impact the economic and social wellbeing of stakeholders.


Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems University of Wisconsin-Madison. (1992). 

Sustainable agriculture: balancing profits and human and natural resources.

  • Historical piece written nearly three decades ago. Poses agriculture sustainability as wider in scope than favorable environmental outcomes. Discusses mechanisms to concurrently address environmental issues, economic disparities, and social inequities. In short, a portal to the past that provides opportunity to reflect on how the path to sustainability has or has not coincided with pathways proposed in the late-twentieth century.


de Gennaro, B. C., & Forleo, M. B. (2019). Sustainability perspectives in agricultural economics research and policy agenda. Agricultural and Food Economics, 7(1). doi:10.1186/s40100-019-0134-8

  • An academic editorial from a special on the economics of agricultural sustainability. Ideal for those looking for a methodical assessment in the areas of sustainability integration into the supply chain, climate change effects, on consumer trends for sustainable products. This source is an opportunity to dive deeper into issues of agricultural sustainability while maintaining a broad scope.


Flores, C. C., & Sarandón, S. J. (2004). Limitations of Neoclassical Economics for Evaluating Sustainability of Agricultural Systems: Comparing Organic and Conventional Systems. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, 24(2), 77-91. doi:10.1300/J064v24n02_08

  • A detailed review discussing the limitations of neoclassical economics applied to sustainability assessment. Conventional versus organic production in Argentina is used as a model. Challenges in characterizing all possible sustainability outcomes through an economic lens are discussed.


Gentry, P. (2013). Developing Whole Communities: Community Economic Development and Locally Based Sustainable Agriculture. Beyond Community Economic Development to Sustainable Community Development.

  • A legal perspective on sustainable agriculture development in urban environments. Discusses opportunities for community-based development organizations (CBDOs) to act as a platform for sustainable agriculture growth. Suggests CBDOs can interface between rural production and underserved urban markets boosting economic outcomes for all involved. Contends CBDOs must account for sustainable agriculture in their missions to maintain relevance. 


Hansen, J. W. (1996). Is Agricultural Sustainability a Useful Concept? Agricultural Systems, 50, 117-143

  • A reflection on two distinct sustainability definitions: 1) an approach to mitigate deleterious effects from agriculture 2) an approach to mitigate deleterious effects to agriculture. Discussion on how these definitions are applicable to an economic framework. Details potential adaptations that would enhance utility of the two definitions.


Ikerd, J. (2001). Economics of Sustainable Farming. Systems in Agriculture and Land Management.

  • A pragmatic foray into sustainability and economics at the farmgate. Narrates historical economic hardships in United States agriculture and how sustainable agriculture’s economics deviate from convention. Higher specificity than other pieces listed, because it discusses how the principles manifest on the farm.


Lee, D. R. (2005). Agricultural Sustainability and Technology Adoption: Issues and Policies for Developing Countries. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 87(5), 1325-1334.

  • Overview of the economics associated with sustainable intensification in small-holder systems. Many other resources listed place emphasis on industrial food systems; however, this article discusses how economics and policy shape sustainable agriculture in developing countries. Introduces economic and policy mechanisms to catalyze sustainability in these systems.


Michigan State University. Economic Analysis of Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems.

  • A multi-page resource for enterprises seeking to bolster economic viability and integrate environmental sustainability. Emphasis placed on budgeting to maximize profitability and utilizing environmental metrics to identify business opportunities. Intellectual tools provided to market on a sustainability platform.


Polasky, S., Kling, C. L., Levin, S. A., Carpenter, S. R., Daily, G. C., Ehrlich, P. R., Lubchenco, J. (2019). Role of economics in analyzing the environment and sustainable development. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 116(12), 5233-5238. doi:10.1073/pnas.1901616116

  • Advocates for integration of social sciences, notably economics, arguing that the discipline has largely been circumvented by the contemporary sustainability movement. Asserts that agricultural sustainability is unattainable without integration of the social sciences. Provides high-level first steps for assessment of sustainability and development through a socioeconomic level.


Smith, V. H. (2016). Economic sustainability Trying together profitability, stewardship, and productivity on the farm.

  • A discussion of the nuances between sustainability definitions. Author reflects on the compatibility and exclusivity of environmental and economic sustainability by reflecting on various practices and technologies. Author posits that economic and environmental sustainability are likely to converge long-term; however, optimization of one does not translate to optimization of the other. A glancing mention of policy influence on agricultural sustainability.


UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. (2017a). Direct Marketing.

  • A historical overview and characterization of direct market opportunities that circumvent conventional channels. Emphasis placed on opportunities such as farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture that provide enhanced accessibility to small and moderate sized growers. Links provided for further exploration on areas of specific interest.

UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. (2017b). Fair Labor Issues.

  • A look at the inextricable nature between social and economic wellbeing in agricultural sustainability. Agricultural laborers are the backbone of the supply chain; therefore, this resource highlights the need for labor to remain cost-effective while providing an equitable wage that provides workers access to the very commodities they help bring to the market. Several policies aimed at ensuring economic well being for laborers are introduced. Links provided for further exploration on areas of specific interest.


UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. (2017c). Value-based Supply Chains.

  • Article encapsulates the essence of value-based supply chains and what opportunities they may offer to small and mid-size operators. Consumer trends that establish connections to the food and potential to differentiate one’s products are introduced. Research and outreach efforts emphasized given the relative infancy of some value-based supply chains. Links provided for further exploration on areas of interest.


Union of Concerned Scientists. (2012). Ensuring the Harvest Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Future.

  • A 30,000-foot view of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy implications that erect economic barriers against agricultural sustainability. Covers influence of crop insurance, federal credit line approval, and related policies. Provides a snapshot of USDA policies that can guide further exploration.


United States Environmental Protection Agency. (1997). The Economics of Sustainability.

  • A crash course in economic principles and their meaning in an environmental context. Juxtaposes various economic and policy paradigms. Many resources listed on this page assume the reader possesses fundamental knowledge about economic principles.