Publications

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  • The Farm Act's Regional Equity Provision: Impacts on Conservation Program Outcomes

    ERR-98, June 11, 2010

    The 2002 and 2008 Farm Acts increased funding for conservation programs that provide financial assistance to farmers to implement conservation practices on working farmland. Along with seeking cost-effective environmental benefits, these programs have a goal of spreading conservation funding equitably across States. The 2002 and 2008 Farm Acts strengthened this allocative goal by setting a minimum threshold for conservation funding for each State-one that exceeds historical funding for some States-for enrolling agricultural producers in specified conservation programs. This study uses conservation program data to examine evidence of the impacts of the Regional Equity provision of the 2002 Farm Act, and explores the tradeoffs that can occur among conservation program goals when legislation gives primacy to fund allocation. The study found that cross-State shifts in funding reduced the acres receiving conservation treatment for many resource problems, but increased the net economic benefits from treatments on some of them. Overall impacts on the types of producers enrolled were small.

  • 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

  • Fewer Farms on Reservations Join Conservation Program, But Make Larger Conservation Investments

    Amber Waves, March 01, 2010

    Farms on reservations are less likely to participate in EQIP than farms elsewhere. In States that contain American Indian reservations, about 4 percent of EQIP contracts and 6 percent of funding in 2006 went to farms on reservations. Participating reservation farms, however, tend to have larger EQIP contracts than other farms.

  • Participation in Conservation Programs by Targeted Farmers: Beginning, Limited-Resource, and Socially Disadvantaged Operators' Enrollment Trends

    EIB-62, December 07, 2009

    Beginning, limited-resource, and socially disadvantaged farmers make up as much as 40 percent of all U.S. farms. Some Federal conservation programs contain provisions that encourage participation by such "targeted" farmers and the 2008 Farm Act furthered these efforts. This report compares the natural resource characteristics, resource issues, and conservation treatment costs on farms operated by targeted farmers with those of other participants in the largest U.S. working-lands and land retirement conservation programs. Some evidence shows that targeted farmers tend to operate more environmentally sensitive land than other farmers, have different conservation priorities, and receive different levels of payments. Data limitations preclude a definitive analysis of whether efforts to improve participation by targeted farmers hinders or enhances the conservation programs' ability to deliver environmental benefits cost effectively. But the different conservation priorities among types of farmers suggest that if a significantly larger proportion of targeted farmers participates in these programs, the programs' economic and environmental outcomes could change.

  • 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.

  • Conservation Reserve Program Acreage To Decline; Will Benefits Also Fall?

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2008

    The Conservation Reserve Program-the long-time centerpiece of U.S. agricultural conservation policy-is shrinking. The acreage cap will fall to 32 million acres beginning in October, 2009, and program acreage could fall farther without new enrollments. As CRP acreage declines, will environmental benefits decline at the same rate?

  • Conservation Program Provision May Have Limited Impact on Underserved Farmer Participation

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2008

    Conservation program funding set-asides in the 2008 Farm Act may have little impact on the participation of beginning farmers in EQIP. Payments to beginning farmers in EQIP exceeded the set-aside funding amount in 2006, but regionally administered set-asides may increase participation in certain regions.

  • Economic Measures of Soil Conservation Benefits: Regional Values for Policy Assessment

    TB-1922, September 19, 2008

    This report describes data and methodologies that the Economic Research Service has used to apply monetary values to changes in soil erosion. Values and methodology are clearly described so that analysts can apply the data to specific soil conservation projects. ERS has used the values to estimate soil conservation benefits of changes in farm programs and practices, but no analyses of farm programs or practices are provided here. The benefit values are regional dollar-per-ton measures of 14 different categories of soil conservation benefits. There are other soil conservation benefits categories beyond those reported here, so a full accounting of benefits is not possible. As a result, monetary values derived from applications of these data are likely to be lower-bound estimates of the benefits or costs of changes in soil erosion. The data are thought to be detailed enough for national and regional estimates, but lack precision for smaller scale estimates.

  • 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.

  • Soil Conservation Preserves Reservoir Benefits Nationwide

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2008

    Agricultural runoff transporting eroded soil is a major source of the sediment deposited in over 70,000 reservoirs across the United States. The buildup of sediment within reservoirs reduces their water holding capacity, and the level and quality of the benefits and services these reservoirs can provide. ERS researchers have developed estimates of the value of the benefits from a 1-ton reduction in soil erosion. Benefit values vary across the country based on differences in physical characteristics, such as, the amount of sediment deposited into the reservoir and its impact on reservoir services, and the size of the population affected by the loss in services. These factors are among those considered in estimating the value the public places on the benefits and services provided by the reservoir.

  • Integrating Conservation and Commodity Program Payments: A Look at the Tradeoffs

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2007

    A payment program that integrates characteristics of conservation and commodity programs could simultaneously support working farms and ranches while improving environmental quality, with some tradeoffs. If policymakers structure payments to focus on environmental gain, income support benefits would be more broadly distributed across the U.S. agricultural sector. If policymakers seek to preserve the existing distribution of commodity program payments within an integrated program, environmental gain would be lower and its associated per-unit costs higher than under a similar program focused on conservation.

  • Conservation Reserve Program Boosts Outdoor Recreation in Rural Communities

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2007

    Recreational spending attributable to enhanced environmental amenities due to CRP enrollment are estimated to be as much as $290 million per year.

  • Integrating Commodity and Conservation Programs: Design Options and Outcomes

    ERR-44, October 30, 2007

    Could a single program support farm income and encourage environmentally sound farm practices? ERS looks at some hypothetical program scenarios.

  • Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms: Family Farm Report, 2007 Edition

    EIB-24, June 01, 2007

    U.S. farms are diverse, ranging from small retirement and residential farms to enterprises with annual sales in the millions. Nevertheless, most U.S. farms-98 percent in 2004-are family farms. Even the largest farms tend to be family farms. Large-scale family farms and nonfamily farms account for 10 percent of U.S farms, but 75 percent of the value of production. In contrast, small family farms make up most of the U.S. farm count, produce a modest share of farm output, and receive substantial off-farm income. Many farm households have a large net worth, reflecting the land-intensive nature of farming.

  • Emphasis Shifts in U.S. Conservation Policy (Updated)

    Amber Waves, May 01, 2007

    This article describes the policy shift in the 2002 Farm Bill toward increased funding of conservation policies, and shifting conservation priorities. The share of conservation funds allocated to working lands (land used for crop production or grazing) will increase, a modest increase in retirement programs will focus largely on wetland restoration, and the role of benefit-cost targeting in working land programs will be reduced, potentially reducing the cost-effectiveness of these programs.

  • Farmland Preservation Programs: Another Tool for Managing Urban Growth?

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2007

    Little is known about the impact of permanently preserving farmland on development patterns in the long run. Research suggests it may be more realistic to view Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) programs as tools to help local jurisdictions manage growth and guide development away from farmland with desirable characteristics, rather than as a panacea for stopping urban sprawl.

  • Bidding Enhances Conservation Program Cost Effectiveness

    Amber Waves, February 01, 2007

    To manage Conservation Program dollars cost-effectively, program managers must motivate farmers to offer to participate and then select those applicants who offer the greatest environmental benefit per dollar spent. Bidding is one way to do that; allowing farmers to "bid" for the activity they will undertake and the level of payment they would receive for it provides program managers with the information they need to compare the costs and benefits of contract offers. This could ensure that final program participants are those who will maximize taxpayers' investment in conservation effort.

  • Green Payments: Can Income and Conservation Payments Be Combined?

    Amber Waves, February 01, 2007

    Green payments would merge farm income support and conservation payments. If income support and conservation payments go to different farms, policymakers will face tradeoffs between the two objectives when designing a green payments program.

  • Environmental Effects of Agricultural Land-Use Change: The Role of Economics and Policy

    ERR-25, August 31, 2006

    This report examines evidence on the relationship between agricultural land-use changes, soil productivity, and indicators of environmental sensitivity. If cropland that shifts in and out of production is less productive and more environmentally sensitive than other cropland, policy-induced changes in land use could have production effects that are smaller-and environmental impacts that are greater-than anticipated. To illustrate this possibility, this report examines environmental outcomes stemming from land-use conversion caused by two agricultural programs that others have identified as potentially having important influences on land use and environmental quality: Federal crop insurance subsidies and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Nation's largest cropland retirement program.

  • 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.