Publications

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  • "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.

  • "No-Till" Farming Is a Growing Practice

    EIB-70, November 02, 2010

    ERS summarizes U.S. trends in the use of reduced-tillage practices on cropland planted to eight major crops--barley, corn, cotton, oats, rice, sorghum, soybeans, and wheat -- from 2000 to 2007, and provides estimates of acreage under no-till in 2009.

  • 2014 Farm Act Continues Most Previous Trends In Conservation

    Amber Waves, May 05, 2014

    The Agricultural Act of 2014 continues a strong overall commitment to conservation, with an emphasis on working land conservation. Many conservation programs are consolidated into new programs or merged into existing programs. Crop insurance premium subsidies are re-linked to Conservation Compliance (conservation of highly erodible land and wetlands) for the first time since 1996.

  • 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.

  • Additionality in Agricultural Conservation Programs

    Amber Waves, September 08, 2014

    Additionality measures the extent to which conservation program payments actually encourage adoption of practices that farmers would not otherwise adopt. Estimates of additionality are high for some practices, particularly installation of soil conservation structures (e.g., terraces) and buffers (e.g., field-edge filter strips), but not as high for others (e.g., conservation tillage).

  • Additionality in U.S. Agricultural Conservation and Regulatory Offset Programs

    ERR-170, July 28, 2014

    "Additionality," achieved when a voluntary payment to farmers causes a change in conservation practice leading to an improvement in environmental quality, varies by type of practice.

  • 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.

  • Agricultural Land Tenure and Carbon Offsets

    EB-14, September 23, 2009

    Agricultural Land Tenure and Carbon Offsets examines the potential role that land ownership might play in determining the agricultural sector's involvement in carbon sequestration programs. By estimating the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural producers who own most of the land they operate, this report finds that land ownership should not be a constraining factor in agriculture's ability to provide carbon offsets.

  • Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2006 Edition

    EIB-16, July 21, 2006

    These chapters describe trends in resources used in and affected by agricultural production, as well as the economic conditions and policies that influence agricultural resource use and its environmental impacts. Each of the 28 chapters provides a concise overview of a specific topic with links to sources of additional information. Chapters are available in HTML and pdf formats.

  • Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2012

    EIB-98, August 22, 2012

    The 2012 edition provides resource-and environment-related information including farmland area, productivity, irrigation, pesticide use, adoption of genetically engineered crops, fertilizer use, conservation practices, and land retirement.

  • An Economic Assessment of Policy Options To Reduce Agricultural Pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay

    ERR-166, June 04, 2014

    ERS researchers use data on agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to assess the effectiveness of different policies for achieving nutrient and sediment reduction goals, ranging from voluntary financial incentives to regulation.

  • An Economic Perspective on Soil Health

    Amber Waves, September 06, 2016

    Soil health builds upon soil conservation by encouraging farmers to manage soil as a living ecosystem, in addition to reducing soil erosion. Healthy soils can have benefits to society and to farmers. USDA incentivizes farmers to adopt soil health practices through programs such as EQIP and CSP.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Balancing the Multiple Objectives of Conservation Programs

    ERR-19, May 31, 2006

    Many of the Nation's conservation programs use an index approach to prioritize environmental and cost objectives. In an index, objectives are weighted by relative importance. This report provides empirical evidence on the cost and environmental benefit tradeoffs of different weighting schemes in USDA's Conservation Reserve Program and considers how different weighting schemes encourage different sets of landowners to offer land for enrollment. The report finds that while small changes in index weights do not markedly affect levels of environmental benefits that can be achieved at a national level, larger changes can have a moderate impact.

  • Baselines in Environmental Markets: Tradeoffs Between Cost and Additionality

    EB-18, February 14, 2012

    Markets for farm-based environmental services are designed to allow farmers to sell "credits" for environmental improvements in water quality, carbon sequestration, wetlands restoration, and other areas. These markets use an environmental baseline to help determine whether proposed improvements qualify for market credits, and, if so, the number that should be awarded. Selection of a baseline is often a critical and contentious element in the design of environmental service markets. Due to the complexity and costs associated with defining, measuring, and verifying environmental baseline levels across heterogeneous landscapes, program managers may face a tradeoff between the precision with which changes in environmental performance can be estimated and the cost of refining those estimates. This brief focuses on the issues involved in measuring baselines, the strengths and weaknesses of alternative types of baselines, and the tradeoffs involved when selecting a baseline to measure environmental improvement.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Cellulosic Ethanol From Crop Residue Is No Free Lunch?

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2009

    Harvesting crop residues for use as biofuel feedstocks may provide revenue to farmers but can also impose costs by reducing soil productivity and increasing loss of nutrients. Changes in soil erosion and fertilizer use may also result in off-farm environmental impacts.

  • Challenges Facing USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2010

    Reductions in maximum CRP acres mandated by the 2008 Farm Act, along with relatively high agricultural commodity prices, could lead to reduced overall environmental benefits and higher program costs. Alternative enrollment policies and practices could increase benefits per enrolled acre and lower program costs