Publications

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  • Atrazine: Environmental Characteristics and Economics of Management

    AER-699, September 09, 1994

    Restricting or eliminating the use of atrazine in the Midwest would have important economic consequences for farmers and consumers. Atrazine is an important herbicide in the production of corn and other crops in the United States. Since atrazine is such an important herbicide, mandatory changes in application strategies are likely to generate sizable costs for producers and consumers. However, recent findings indicate that elevated amounts of atrazine are running off fields and entering surface water resources. This report presents the costs and benefits of an atrazine ban, a ban on pre-plant and pre-emergent applications, and a targeted ban to achieve a surface water standard. A complete atrazine ban is hypothesized to be the costliest strategy, while the targeted strategy is the least costly.

  • Benefits of Protecting Rural Water Quality: An Empirical Analysis

    AER-701, January 02, 1995

    Concerns about the impact of farm production on the quality of the Nation's drinking and recreational water resources have risen over the past 10 years. Because point sources of pollution were controlled first, agricultural nonpoint sources have become the Nation's largest remaining single water-quality problem. Both public and private costs of policies that address the conflict between agricultural production and water quality are relevant, but measuring the off-farm benefits and costs of changing water quality is difficult. Many of the values placed on these resources are not measured in traditional ways through market prices. This report explores the use of nonmarket valuation methods to estimate the benefits of protecting or improving rural water quality from agricultural sources of pollution. Two case studies show how these valuation methods can be used to include water-quality benefits estimates in economic analyses of specific policies to prevent or reduce water pollution.

  • Proceedings of the Third National IPM Symposium/Workshop

    MP-1542, May 01, 1997

    The Third National IPM Symposium/Workshop took place in Washington, D.C., from February 27 through March 1, 1996. More than 600 participants from around the country attended the symposium/workshop reflecting a wide spectrum of professional interests including scientists (social, biological, and environmental), agricultural producers, and representatives of agribusiness and non-profit organizations. Two dominant themes provided a unifying focus. ""Putting Customers First"" focused on reaching out to the diverse customer base of USDA programs to identify IPM research and implementation needs. ""Assessing IPM Program Impacts"" addressed how to incorporate economic, environmental, and public health assessment in IPM research and extension activities. Other topics covered included analytical and data needs for pest-management programs, policies for promoting biological and reduced risk alternatives, and overcoming barriers to increased adoption of IPM practices and technologies.

  • Economics of Water Quality Protection From Nonpoint Sources: Theory and Practice

    AER-782, November 30, 1999

    Water quality is a major environmental issue. Pollution from nonpoint sources is the single largest remaining source of water quality impairments in the United States. Agriculture is a major source of several nonpoint-source pollutants, including nutrients, sediment, pesticides, and salts. Agricultural nonpoint pollution reduction policies can be designed to induce producers to change their production practices in ways that improve the environmental and related economic consequences of production. The information necessary to design economically efficient pollution control policies is almost always lacking. Instead, policies can be designed to achieve specific environmental or other similarly related goals at least cost, given transaction costs and any other political, legal, or informational constraints that may exist. This report outlines the economic characteristics of five instruments that can be used to reduce agricultural nonpoint source pollution (economic incentives, standards, education, liability, and research) and discusses empirical research related to the use of these instruments.

  • Agri-Environmental Policy at the Crossroads: Guideposts on a Changing Landscape

    AER-794, January 25, 2001

    Agri-environmental policy is at a crossroads. Over the past 20 years, a wide range of policies addressing the environmental implications of agricultural production have been implemented at the Federal level. Those policies have played an important role in reducing soil erosion, protecting and restoring wetlands, and creating wildlife habitat. However, emerging agri-environmental issues, evolution of farm income support policies, and limits imposed by trade agreements may point toward a rethinking of agri-environmental policy. This report identifies the types of policy tools available and the design features that have improved the effectiveness of current programs. It provides an indepth analysis of one policy tool that may be an important component of a future policy package-agri-environmental payments. The analysis focuses on issues and tradeoffs that policymakers would face in designing a program of agri-environmental payments.

  • Public Sector Plant Breeding in a Privatizing World

    AIB-772, August 30, 2001

    Intellectual property protection, globalization, and pressure on public budgets in many industrialized countries have shifted the balance of plant breeding activity from the public to the private sector. Several economic factors influence the relative shares of public versus private sector plant breeding activity, with varying results over time, over country, and over crop. The private sector, for example, dominates corn breeding throughout the industrialized world, but public and private activities in wheat breeding differ widely in Western Europe, different regions of the United States, Canada, and Australia. Public sector involvement in plant breeding may have benefits to society that the private sector's activities may not, fostering greater sharing of information and more work on traits of plant varieties (such as environmental suitability and nutritional characteristics) that may be under-researched by private breeding programs.

  • Managing Manure: New Clean Water Act Regulations Create Imperative for Livestock Producers

    Amber Waves, February 03, 2003

    Ever-growing numbers of livestock and poultry per farm and per acre have increased the risk of water pollution, with manure being disposed of in ways not adequately addressed in the original regulations. In 2001, the EPA proposed new regulations that would compel operations with the largest number of animals to manage their manure according to a nutrient management plan.

  • ARMS Data Highlight Trends in Cropping Practices

    Amber Waves, February 03, 2003

    USDA's Agricultural Resource Management Survey provides a new source of information about production and conservation practices in major field crop producing States. Data from 1996 to 2000 show significant trends beginning to emerge that may have implications for environmental quality.

  • Manure Management for Water Quality: Costs to Animal Feeding Operations of Applying Manure Nutrients to Land

    AER-824, June 19, 2003

    Nutrients from livestock and poultry manure are key sources of water pollution. This report's farm-level analysis examines onfarm technical choice and producer costs across major U.S. production areas. A regional analysis focuses on off-farm competition for land to spread surplus manure, using the Chesapeake Bay region as a case study. Finally, a sectorwide analysis addresses potential long-term structural adjustments at the national level and ultimate costs to consumers and producers.

  • Balancing Conservation Costs and Benefits

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2003

    Recognizing the dearth of data concerning the installation of conservation practices on U.S. farms, ERS constructed a database using Environmental Quality Incentives Program conservation practice data. The database offers a unique opportunity to better understand the demand for conservation practices across regions, the conservation practices being funded and implemented, and the unit costs of implementing these practices.

  • What You Want to Know About Resources and the Environment…But Couldn’t Find

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2003

    Despite the increased focus on environmental issues during the last half of the 20th century, it wasn't always easy to find basic facts about resource use in agriculture and environmental impacts associated with agricultural production. Nearly 10 years ago, ERS addressed that problem with the release of Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, known as AREI. The third and latest edition of the report, available as an online document only, continues to expand on the information contained in the original and is updated as new data become available.

  • Emphasis Shifts in U.S. Agri-Environmental Policy

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2003

    With the passage of the 2002 Farm Act, policymakers have substantially increased conservation funding and made changes in program emphasis. The goals are to expand the amount of U.S. land and the number of farmers covered by conservation programs.

  • "Dead Zone" in the Gulf: Addressing Agriculture's Contribution

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2003

    Scientists believe that hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico is caused by nitrogen loads from the Mississippi River. Because two-thirds of the nitrogen in the Mississippi River comes from use of fertilizer and manure on agricultural lands, reducing agricultural nitrogen is a major component of the strategy for controlling the hypoxic zone.

  • Greenbelts? Not Without Greenbacks

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2003

    About 95 million acres of U.S. cropland is subject to varying degrees of development pressure, or urban influence. Policymakers have turned to two types of voluntary farmland protection programs--preferential assessment and purchase of development rights--to create incentives for farmland owners to keep their farmland undeveloped.

  • Economics of Sequestering Carbon in the U.S. Agricultural Sector

    TB-1909, March 31, 2004

    Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases can be reduced by withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in soils and biomass. This report analyzes the performance of alternative incentive designs and payment levels if farmers were paid to adopt land uses and management practices that raise soil carbon levels. At payment levels below $10 per metric ton for permanently sequestered carbon, analysis suggests landowners would find it more cost effective to adopt changes in rotations and tillage practices. At higher payment levels, afforestation dominates sequestration activities, mostly through conversion of pastureland. Across payment levels, the economic potential to sequester carbon is much lower than the technical potential reported in soil science studies. The most cost-effective payment design adjusts payment levels to account both for the length of time farmers are willing to commit to sequestration activities and for net sequestration. A 50-percent cost-share for cropland conversion to forestry or grasslands would increase sequestration at low carbon payment levels but not at high payment levels.

  • Is Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture Economically Feasible?

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2004

    Two options for reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere are to increase the amount of land planted with permanent grassland or forest vegetation and to reduce the frequency or intensity of tillage. Either option would store additional carbon on the affected lands, but, while technically feasible, these options are not always economically feasible.

  • Beyond Environmental Compliance: Stewardship as Good Business

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2004

    Agricultural producers can benefit economically by voluntarily adopting environmentally beneficial practices. An efficient farm would minimize unnecessary applications of pesticides and fertilizer, enhancing the bottom line as well as minimizing environmental impacts. But additional incentives may exist for farms to invest in environmental management.

  • Measuring the Success of Conservation Programs

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2004

    Many factors must be accounted for to determine the portion of environmental enhancements directly attributable to program incentive-induced changes in farmers’ practices. Still, carefully designed survey and monitoring programs encompassing each of those relationships in a coordinated fashion make such evaluation not only feasible, but well within reach.

  • Technical Documentation of the Regional Manure Management Model for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

    TB-1913, March 18, 2005

    As part of a broader ERS assessment of the costs of manure management, a regional modeling framework was developed to evaluate the effect of Federal guidelines for farmland application of manure on the costs of hauling and spreading manure. This report presents technical details of the regional modeling system, applied to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The report includes an overview of the model's scope and structure, data sources, and modeling assumptions. Results from an initial application of the modeling system are featured in the ERS publication Manure Management for Water Quality: Costs to Animal Feeding Operations of Applying Manure Nutrients to Land (AER-824, June 2003).

  • Improving Air and Water Quality Can Be Two Sides of the Same Coin

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2005

    Agricultural production practices have generated a variety of substances that enter the atmosphere and have the potential of creating health and environmental problems. Two challenges for reducing air emissions from agriculture are potential inter-relationships with water quality, and a lack of information on farm-level emissions needed for effective regulation and management.