Social actors can strongly affect the sustainability of agricultural operations by influencing farmers’ decisions and choices. Such actors include: (1) loss-making investors who abandon farms due to low returns, (2) angry neighbours negatively affected by farming operations and engaging in silent or active conflict, (3) dissatisfied customers at the end of the value chain who reject the products and shift to alternative providers, and (4) overacting regulators who over-regulate farm activities. A higher order sustainability concept considers the ability of farms to adapt and learn from early signs of threats. A number of response paths based on policies, incentives and information supply have been developed to support learning and adjustments. Emphasis on the nested-scales relations of incremental sustainability and sustainagility, in addition to the more commonly articulated ecological threshold perspective, helps identify key indicators that characterize unsustainability processes across countries and contexts. A dynamic systems understanding also assists selection of process indicators focused on response paths that complement result-oriented approaches in current sustainability assessment frameworks.