An opinion piece published in Nature proposed a global network for agricultural monitoring [J. Sachs, R. Remans, S. Smukler, L. Winowiecki, S. J. Andelman, K. G. Cassman, D. Castle, R. DeFries, G. Denning, J. Fanzo, L. E. Jackson, R. Leemans, J. Leemans, J. C. Milder, S. Naeem, G. Nziguheba, C. A. Palm, J. P. Reganold, D. D. Richter, S. J. Scherr, J. Sircely, C. Sullivan, T. P. Tomich and P. A. Sanchez, Nature, 2010, 466, 558–560.]. Whilst we agree with Sachs et al. that monitoring of agricultural systems is a critically important activity of global significance, especially given increasing problems with global food security and the potential impacts of agriculture on the environment [J. Cribb, The Coming Famine. The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It, CSIRO Publishing and University of California Press, Melbourne and Oakland, 2010.], we argue in this paper that their generic, mandated monitoring framework has a high probability of failure or at best will be highly inefficient. We base this conclusion on our recently published examination of the factors influencing the success or failure of monitoring programs worldwide [D. B. Lindenmayer and G. E. Likens, Effective Ecological Monitoring, CSIRO Publishing and Earthscan, Melbourne and London, 2010.]. We briefly outline what we believe are three serious flaws in the monitoring framework proposed by Sachs et al. We then suggest an alternative approach that we argue would be more effective, more efficient, and have a greater chance of successfully addressing key issues in sustainable agriculture.