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  • 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.

  • Farm Program Changes Could Affect Environmental Compliance Incentives

    Amber Waves, June 05, 2012

    Federal farm program payments help encourage good stewardship of natural resources through environmental compliance requirements. But the future effectiveness of environmental compliance requirements may be affected by the evolution of farm programs in the next farm bill.

  • Farm Activities Associated With Rural Development Initiatives

    ERR-134, May 16, 2012

    A number of rural development initiatives have targeted farm-related activities (e.g., agritourism, energy production). ERS examines the characteristics of farms and farm households involved in such activities.

  • The Future of Environmental Compliance Incentives in U.S. Agriculture

    EIB-94, March 14, 2012

    If direct payment programs, which are now subject to environmental compliance, are reduced or eliminated, what would be some impacts of applying environmental compliance provisions to crop insurance?

  • Recent Conservation Reserve Program Enrollments Signal Changing Priorities

    Amber Waves, March 01, 2012

    Over time, the CRP's goals have changed from an early emphasis on limiting soil erosion to include wildlife, water and air quality, and other conservation goals. Driven by changes in legislative mandates, commodity markets, and environmental concerns, the CRP continues to evolve.

  • Green Payments: Can Conservation and Commodity Programs Be Combined?

    Amber Waves, March 01, 2012

    Existing conservation and commodity programs have very little in common, and attempting to meld them into a single program raises questions about to whom and under what conditions payments would be extended.

  • On the Map: Can Crop Insurance Encourage Environmental Compliance?

    Amber Waves, March 01, 2012

    In many areas where crop production is risky, crop insurance could provide a conservation incentive that is equal to or even larger than direct payments. In other areas, compliance incentives could decline.

  • Trends in U.S. Farmland Values and Ownership

    EIB-92, February 22, 2012

    In the last few years, U.S. farmland values have been supported by strong farm earnings, helping the farm sector withstand the residential housing downturn. Regarding ownership, non-operating landowners play a significant role.

  • 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.

  • Research Investments and Market Structure in the Food Processing, Agricultural Input, and Biofuel Industries Worldwide

    ERR-130, December 30, 2011

    ERS quantifies investment trends by for-profit companies in food manufacturing, biofuels, and agricultural input R&D and explores how the trends are affected by changes in industry structure.

  • Nitrogen in Agricultural Systems: Implications for Conservation Policy

    ERR-127, September 22, 2011

    Nitrogen is an important agricultural input that is critical for crop production. However, the introduction of large amounts of nitrogen into the environment has a number of undesirable impacts on water, terrestrial, and atmospheric resources. This report explores the use of nitrogen in U.S. agriculture and assesses changes in nutrient management by farmers that may improve nitrogen use efficiency. It also reviews a number of policy approaches for improving nitrogen management and identifies issues affecting their potential performance. Findings reveal that about two-thirds of U.S. cropland is not meeting three criteria for good nitrogen management related to the rate, timing, and method of application. Several policy approaches, including financial incentives, nitrogen management as a condition of farm program eligibility, and regulation, could induce farmers to improve their nitrogen management and reduce nitrogen losses to the environment.

  • Trends and Developments in Hog Manure Management: 1998-2009

    EIB-81, September 14, 2011

    In the past decade, hog production has increasingly become consolidated, with larger operations producing a greater volume of hog manure on smaller areas. With less cropland for spreading the manure, hog farmers may be compensating through more effective manure management. The authors use data from 1998 to 2009 collected in three national surveys of hog farmers. Over this period, structural changes in the hog sector altered how manure is stored and handled. Changes to the Clean Water Act, State regulations, and local conflicts over air quality also affected manure management decisions. The findings further suggest that environmental policy has influenced conservation-compatible manure management practices. The authors examine how the use of nutrient management plans and of practices such as controlled manure application rates vary with scale of production and how these practices changed over the study period. This report is an update of an earlier report, Changes in Manure Management in the Hog Sector: 1998-2004.

  • On the Doorstep of the Information Age: Recent Adoption of Precision Agriculture

    EIB-80, August 24, 2011

    The adoption of precision agriculture, which encompasses a suite of farm-level information technologies, can improve the efficiency of input use and reduce environmental harm from the overapplication of inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Still, the adoption of precision agricultural technologies and practices has been less rapid than envisioned a decade ago. Using Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data collected over the past 10 years, this report examines trends in the adoption of four key information technologies-yield monitors, variable-rate application technologies, guidance systems, and GPS maps-in the production of major field crops. While yield monitoring is now used on over 40 percent of U.S. grain crop acres, very few producers have adopted GPS maps or variable-rate input application technologies.

  • The Ethanol Decade: An Expansion of U.S. Corn Production, 2000-09

    EIB-79, August 18, 2011

    ERS examines how the farm sector reacted to increased demand for corn needed to fuel a 9-billion-gallon rise in ethanol production in the past decade. In the United States, corn is the primary ethanol feedstock.

  • Grassland to Cropland Conversion in the Northern Plains: The Role of Crop Insurance, Commodity, and Disaster Programs

    ERR-120, June 30, 2011

    ERS examined how quickly landowners were converting grasslands to cropland in the Northern Plains and the role of crop insurance and other farm programs in their decisions.

  • Measuring the Indirect Land-Use Change Associated With Increased Biofuel Feedstock Production: A Review of Modeling Efforts: Report to Congress

    AP-054, February 10, 2011

    The House Report 111-181 accompanying H.R. 2997, the 2010 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, requested the USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) in conjunction with the Office of the Chief Economist, to conduct a study of land-use changes for renewable fuels and feedstocks used to produce them. This report summarizes the current state of knowledge of the drivers of land-use change and describes the analytic methods used to estimate the impact of biofuel feedstock production on land use. The models used to assess policy impacts have incorporated some of the major uncertainties inherent in making projections of future conditions, but some uncertainties will continue exist. The larger the impact of domestic biofuels feedstock production on commodity prices and the availability of exports, the larger the international land-use effects of likely to be. The amount of pressure placed on land internationally will depend in part on how much of the land needed for biofuel production is met through an expansion of agricultural land in the United States. If crop yield per acre increases through more intensive management or new crop varieties, then less land is needed to grow a particular amount of that crop.

  • Climate Change Policy and the Adoption of Methane Digesters on Livestock Operations

    ERR-111, February 07, 2011

    Methane digesters-biogas recovery systems that use methane from manure to generate electricity-have not been widely adopted in the United States because costs have exceeded benefits to operators. Burning methane in a digester reduces greenhouse gas emissions from manure management. A policy or program that pays producers for these emission reductions-through a carbon offset market or directly with payments-could increase the number of livestock producers who would profit from adopting a methane digester. We developed an economic model that illustrates how dairy and hog operation size, location, and manure management methods, along with electricity and carbon prices, could influence methane digester profits. The model shows that a relatively moderate increase in the price of carbon could induce significantly more dairy and hog operations, particularly large ones, to adopt a methane digester, thereby substantially lowering emissions of greenhouse gases.

  • Farm Act’s Regional Equity Provision May Entail Conservation Tradeoffs

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2010

    Analysis of data from 2004-06 (when the 2002 Farm Act was in effect) on USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program—the largest program covered by the Regional Equity provision—reveals that the funding shift reduced the number of acres receiving treatment for many resource problems.

  • U.S. Farmers Increasingly Adopt “No-Till” for Major Crops

    Amber Waves, December 01, 2010

    Widespread adoption of less intensive tillage practices could enable U.S. agriculture to sequester substantial amounts of carbon and contribute to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Less intensive tillage would also reduce water sedimentation and chemical pollution as well as atmospheric dust and haze.

  • "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.