The visible, sustainable farm: A comprehensive energy analysis of a midwestern farm

Aaron W. Baum, Tadeusz Patzek*, Martin Bender, Steve Renich, Wes Jackson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The Sunshine Farm, in central Kansas, offers a unique data set detailing all the inputs and outputs of a farming project intended to be based, as much as possible, on solar energy. Such a complete and detailed data set, encompassing more than 1.25 M data points for an 85-ha, 7-year project, has never before been compiled for any farm. The data show that important energy inputs that have thus far been left out of existing farm energy efficiency estimates, with implications for biofuels and other biomass for energy technologies. The SSF achieved energy efficiencies superior to conventional agriculture while maintaining soil health and delivering more nutritious, organic products. A first-ever analysis of the energy efficiency of horse traction shows that horses are significantly less energy efficient and much less labor efficient than tractors, although the horses in the study were clearly underutilized. An analysis of the farm removing all inputs and outputs relevant to the horses shows that without horses the Sunshine Farm would have been competitive with conventional energy efficiencies even taking into account the farm's higher labor inputs and small size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-239
Number of pages22
JournalCritical Reviews in Plant Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Aaron Baum was supported by a fellowship from the Land Institute. The authors would also like to thank David Pimentel, Jerry Glover, Steve Moore, Jane Lingenfelser, and Laura Jackson for their useful inputs to this study.


  • Chemicals-free
  • Crop
  • Draft horse
  • Livestock
  • Organic
  • Photovoltaics
  • Rotation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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