Publications

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  • Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demands

    EIB-99, September 04, 2012

    Agriculture accounts for 80-90 percent of U.S. consumptive water use. ERS draws on findings from several national surveys and current literature to assess water resource use and conservation measures within the irrigated crop sector.

  • Agricultural Adaptation to a Changing Climate: Economic and Environmental Implications Vary by U.S. Region

    ERR-136, July 06, 2012

    ERS models the farm sector's ability to adapt to a changing climate with current practices and technology, and explores economic and environmental implications of adaptation under a range of climate change scenarios.

  • 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.

  • Economic Research Service: Program of Work Addressing Global Climate Change

    AP-052, December 09, 2010

    The Economic Research Service conducts research to estimate the market effects of climate change and adaptation in the agricultural sector and to assess the implications of alternative climate and energy policies. A fact sheet outlines the agency's program of work.

  • "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.

  • The Role of Agriculture in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

    EB-15, September 07, 2010

    Agriculture could play a prominent role in U.S. efforts to address climate change if farms and ranches undertake activities that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. These activities may include shifting to conservation tillage, reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops, changing livestock and manure management practices, and planting trees or grass. The Federal Government is considering offering carbon offsets and incentive payments to encourage rural landowners to pursue these climate-friendly activities as part of a broader effort to combat climate change. The extent to which farmers adopt such activities would depend on their costs, potential revenues, and other economic incentives created by climate policy. Existing Federal conservation programs provide preliminary estimates of the costs of agricultural carbon sequestration.

  • Mitigating Climate Change: Opportunities for Farmers

    Amber Waves, March 01, 2010

    Offset markets under a cap-and-trade system represent a potentially large new source of income for farmers but a myriad of details will drive farmer decisions about what kinds of offset activities might be most profitable, if any.

  • 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.

  • Land Use Can Play Critical Role in Controlling Global Warming

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2009

    Limiting carbon dioxide concentrations to low levels will require strategies that manage carbon emissions and sequestration from land use change as well as from the combustion of fossil fuels. The overall cost of limiting carbon dioxide concentrations is reduced when all sources and sinks of carbon dioxide are considered, including agricultural soils and forests.

  • The Use of Markets To Increase Private Investment in Environmental Stewardship

    ERR-64, September 02, 2008

    U.S. farmers and ranchers produce a wide variety of commodities for food, fuel, and fiber in response to market signals. Farms also contain significant amounts of natural resources that can provide a host of environmental services, including cleaner air and water, flood control, and improved wildlife habitat. Environmental services are often valued by society, but because they are a public good-that is, people can obtain them without paying for them-farmers and ranchers may not benefit financially from producing them. As a result, farmers and ranchers underprovide these services. This report explores the use of market mechanisms, such as emissions trading and eco-labels, to increase private investment in environmental stewardship. Such investments could complement or even replace public investments in traditional conservation programs. The report also defines roles for government in the creation and function of markets for environmental services.

  • Economic Returns to Public Agricultural Research

    EB-10, September 04, 2007

    Over the last several decades, the U.S. agricultural sector has sustained impressive productivity growth. The Nation's agricultural research system, including Federal-State public research as well as private-sector research, has been a key driver of this growth. Economic analysis finds strong and consistent evidence that investment in agricultural research has yielded high returns per dollar spent. These returns include benefits not only to the farm sector but also to the food industry and consumers in the form of more abundant commodities at lower prices.

  • 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.

  • Is Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture Economically Feasible?

    Amber Waves, July 01, 2006

    Increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse" gases have contributed to global warming over the last 50 years. 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 operations. Either option would store-or sequester-additional carbon on the affected lands, but, while technically feasible, these options are not always economically feasible.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Issues in Food Security

    AIB-765, April 23, 2001

    Included here are a number of short multidisciplinary issue papers that address how food security in the United States and throughout the world is affected by issues like trade liberalization, income distribution, and natural resources. ERS research shows that more than 800 million people are hungry in 67 lower income countries and even though the number of people affected is expected to decline, the situation may become more severe in the poorer countries. The reasons for food insecurity are many. Noticeably absent from that list, however, is large-scale food scarcity. The growth rate in food production worldwide has surpassed the population growth rate, leading to increased food availability per person. Since 1996, some regions/countries have significantly improved their economic performance and food security situation: several lower income countries in Asia and Latin America are clearly in this group. Sub-Saharan Africa, however, has not seen much progress, nor are its prospects for improvement sanguine. Global trade liberalization is expected to expand market access for the lower income countries and enhance their ability to compete. The multiplicity of forces acting on different nations' prospects for food security means that a broad range of issues must be considered at the global level if countries-and all their households-are to become and remain food secure.

  • Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change: Issues of Longrun Sustainability

    AER-740, June 01, 1996

    Early evaluations of the effects of climate change on agriculture, which did not account for economic adjustments or consider the broader economic and environmental implications of such changes, overestimated the negative effects of climate change. This report, which highlights ERS research, focuses on economic adaptation and concludes there is considerably more sectoral flexibility and adaptability than found in other analyses. The report frames the discussion of economic adjustments within the context of global agricultural environmental sustainability.