The article critically analyses how the transformative ambition of the SDGs may be threatened in the process of moving from vision, through goals and targets to indicators. This is exemplified by a case study concerning sustainable agriculture, and most specifically indicator 2.4.1, where two contrasting approaches – industrial agriculture and agro‐ecology – stand in opposition, each with its associated discourse and interests. The process is analysed in great detail, noting the complex interplay of political and technical considerations. FAO has played a central role in establishing a compromise with regard to the wording of indicator 2.4.1 which papers over the disagreements and does not explicitly promote either of the two competing approaches. And the organisation has facilitated a technical process which, instead of one simple indicator, has led to a composite, multidimensional version with nine sub‐indicators, as a result of which it has been relegated to ‘Tier III’ status, implying that it will not be used for global monitoring purposes. The article concludes that – owing to a combination of political and technical factors – the transformative potential of the SDGs may, in this instance, be lost.