Publications

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  • 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.

  • The Changing Organization of U.S. Farming

    EIB-88, December 02, 2011

    Using survey and census data, ERS examines how changes in farm input use, business arrangements, structure, and production practices since the 1980s combined to expand output without increasing the total use of inputs.

  • Impacts of Higher Energy Prices on Agriculture and Rural Economies

    ERR-123, August 18, 2011

    ERS looks at direct and indirect impacts of higher energy prices on the agricultural and rural sectors, with scenarios developed for specific energy price changes.

  • Irrigated Acres Up, Water Application Rate Trending Down

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2006

    Irrigated acreage has increased by over 40 percent in the last 35 years, while total water applied increased by only 11 percent because of reduced per-acre water applications. Irrigated agriculture will remain an important land cultivation practice for the foreseeable future, but continued changes in the location and use of irrigation water are likely.

  • On The Map

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2006

    Irrigated agriculture is distributed across the Nation. While the West still has the greatest number of irrigated acres, regions in the East-particularly the Mississippi Delta and areas of the Southeast-now rival the density of historically irrigated areas in the West. Increased irrigation in relatively humid Eastern regions has heightened water supply concerns, especially during dry years and in locations experiencing fast growth in water use. Water supply limitations are no longer viewed as a "Western" issue in areas where irrigated agriculture is a major water user.

  • In The Long Run

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2006

    Irrigated agriculture is distributed across the Nation. While the West still has the greatest number of irrigated acres, regions in the East-particularly the Mississippi Delta and areas of the Southeast-now rival the density of historically irrigated areas in the West. Increased irrigation in relatively humid Eastern regions has heightened water supply concerns, especially during dry years and in locations experiencing fast growth in water use. Water supply limitations are no longer viewed as a "Western" issue in areas where irrigated agriculture is a major water user.

  • 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.

  • Contrasting Working-Land and Land Retirement Programs

    EB-4, March 14, 2006

    A multitude of design decisions influence the performance of voluntary conservation programs. This Economic Brief is one of a set of five exploring the implications of decisions policymakers and program managers must make about who is eligible to receive payments, how much can be received, for what action, and the means by which applicants are selected. In particular, this Brief focuses on potential tradeoffs in balancing land retirement with conservation on working lands.

  • 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).

  • Irrigation, Water Conservation, and Farm Size in the Western United States

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2004

    Irrigation is critical to U.S. agriculture and accounts for 80 percent of water consumed in the U.S.; irrigation is particularly important in 17 western states that were the focus of an ERS study. There are a number of federal, state, and local cost share programs aimed at helping farmers invest in more efficient water use technology. But these could be more effective if they were targeted to larger farms that account for the largest share of water use in agriculture.

  • China's Agricultural Water Policy Reforms: Increasing Investment, Resolving Conflicts, and Revising Incentives

    AIB-782, March 03, 2003

    This report documents the problem of water scarcity in parts of northern China and describes China's agricultural water management policies as well as reforms underway to encourage water conservation.

  • Soil, Nutrient, and Water Management Systems Used in U.S. Corn Production

    AIB-774, April 22, 2002

    Corn production uses over 25 percent of the Nation's cropland and more than 40 percent of the commercial fertilizer applied to crops. Thus, corn farmers' choices of soil, nutrient, and water management systems can have a major impact not only on their own profitability, but also on the environment. If sound economic and environmental choices are to be encouraged, it may help to assess relationships between operator and farm characteristics and the adoption of management techniques by corn farmers. Data from the 1996 Agricultural Resource Management Study (ARMS) of U.S. corn farms and producers are analyzed for this purpose, supplemented by a literature survey on factors that influence corn farm management choices. Relationships were found between certain socioeconomic variables, including farmer age and education and size of the operation, and implementation of management practices. This is the first study to relate corn farm management choices, on a national scale, to so broad a set of characteristics.

  • 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.

  • Wetlands and Agriculture: Private Interests and Public Benefits

    AER-765, September 01, 1998

    Society has recently increased the value it places on the services that wetlands provide, including water quality improvements, flood control, wildlife habitat, and recreation. However, owners of wetlands are often unable to profit from these services because the benefits created are freely enjoyed by many. This report examines differences between public and private incentives regarding wetlands. Federal wetland policy has shifted in recent decades--from encouraging wetland conversion to encouraging wetland protection and restoration--in an effort to balance public and private objectives. The report assesses the need for continued wetlands protection policies as the United States approaches achieving the goal of no net loss of wetlands.

  • Benefits of Safer Drinking Water: The Value of Nitrate Reduction

    AER-752, June 01, 1997

    Nitrates in drinking water, which may come from nitrogen fertilizers applied to crops, are a potential health risk. This report evaluates the potential benefits of reducing human exposure to nitrates in the drinking water supply. In a survey, respondents were asked a series of questions about their willingness to pay for a hypothetical water filter, which would reduce their risk of nitrate exposure. If nitrates in the respondent's drinking water were to exceed the EPA minimum safety standard, they would be willing to pay $45 to $60, per household, per month, to reduce nitrates in their drinking water to the minimum safety standard. There are 2.9 million households in the four regions studied (White River area of Indiana, Central Nebraska, Lower Susquehanna, and Mid-Columbia Basin in Washington). If all households potentially at risk were protected from excessive nitrates in drinking water the estimated benefits would be $350 million.

  • World Agriculture and Climate Change: Economic Adaptations

    AER-703, June 01, 1995

    Recent studies suggest that possible global increases in temperature and changes in precipitation patterns during the next century will affect world agriculture. Because of the ability of farmers to adapt , however, these changes are not likely to imperil world food production. Nevertheless, world production of all goods and services may decline, if climate change is severe enough or if cropland expansion is hindered. Impacts are not equally distributed around the world.

  • Voluntary Incentives for Reducing Agricultural Nonpoint Source Water Pollution

    AIB-716, May 01, 1995

    Agricultural chemicals and sediment from cropland may reduce the quality of America's surface and ground water resources. The Clean Water Act stipulates that individual States are responsible for controlling agricultural nonpoint source pollution. Most State plans rely chiefly on education and technical assistance to promote the adoption of less polluting practices. Because profitability drives production decisions, these programs tend to be most successful when they promote inexpensive changes in existing practices. This report presents research findings on the success of incentive programs to control agricultural nonpoint source pollution.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Estimating Water Quality Benefits: Theoretical and Methodological Issues

    TB-1808, September 01, 1992

    Reviews practical approaches and theoretical foundations for estimating the economic value of changes in water quality to recreation, navigation, reservoirs, municipal water treatment and use, and roadside drainage ditches.