Publications

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  • Targeted Farmers in EQIP Operate More Environmentally Sensitive Land, But Address Different Environmental Needs

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2010

    If EQIP-targeted farmers address different environmental needs or operate acreage that is more or less environmentally sensitive than land operated by other EQIP farmers, the EQIP provisions favorable to targeted farmers could change the economic and environmental outcomes of the program.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Larger Farms, Environmental Policy Affecting Manure Management

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2009

    Changes in the structure of livestock farms from smaller to larger increasingly specialized operations have altered manure management practices. At the same time, changes to the Clean Water Act, State regulations, and local conflicts over odor are requiring livestock producers to more carefully consider their manure management decisions.

  • 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.

  • Changes in Manure Management in the Hog Sector: 1998-2004

    EIB-50, March 31, 2009

    In recent years, structural changes in the hog sector, including increased farm size and regional shifts in production, have altered manure management practices. Also, changes to the Clean Water Act, State regulations, and increasing local conflicts over air quality issues, including odor, have influenced manure management decisions. This study uses data from two national surveys of hog farmers to examine how hog manure management practices vary with the scale of production and how these practices evolved between 1998 and 2004. Included are the effects of structural changes, recent policies on manure management technologies and practices, the use of nutrient management plans, and manure application rates. The findings suggest that larger hog operations are altering their manure management decisions in response to binding nutrient application constraints, and that environmental policy is contributing to the adoption of conservation compatible manure management practices.

  • Integrating Invasive Species Prevention And Control Policies

    EB-11, September 19, 2008

    Programs and policies to minimize the threat of, or mitigate the damages from, invasive species work best if designed in concert with each other. Whether program emphasis should be on prevention or control depends on the biological characteristics and size of the invasive species population, ecological characteristics of invaded ecosystems, the cost and efficacy of prevention measures relative to control measures, and the level of prevention costs borne abroad. Because all of these factors are highly variable, data needs are constant if intervention is to be both effective and economical.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Regional Environment and Agriculture Programming Model (REAP)

    TB-1916, March 30, 2007

    The Regional Environment and Agriculture Programming Model (REAP), facilitates scenario-or "what if"-analyses by showing how changes in technology, commodity supply or demand, or farm, resource, environmental, or trade policy could affect a host of performance indicators important to decisionmakers and stakeholders. This report describes its theoretical and modeling system specification and the data used by REAP, and serves as a user guide for setting up and running model simulations.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Participant Bidding Enhances Cost Effectiveness

    EB-3, 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. The particular issue examined here is the potential benefits of allowing farmers to "bid" for the activity they will undertake and the level of payment they would receive for it.