Publications

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  • Measuring the Success of Conservation Programs

    Amber Waves, July 01, 2006

    Due to the influence and interactions of many factors, evaluation of conservation programs is a data-intensive and technically challenging process. This article provides an overview of the steps necessary for evaluating the success of conservation program. These steps must address two questions: 1) How do different farm operators in different circumstances decide what production and conservation practices to implement, in the presence and absence of the conservation program being evaluated, at different levels of incentives provided by that program?; and 2) How do the farm practices attributable to conservation program incentives affect environmental quality?

  • A Multitude of Design Decisions Influence Conservation Program Performance

    Amber Waves, July 01, 2006

    Designing a voluntary conservation program requires several types of decision criteria to encourage farmers to apply and to determine who can participate in the program. These decisions act as a winnowing process, starting with all farmers and ranchers and resulting in a pool of program participants.

  • On The Map

    Amber Waves, July 01, 2006

    USDA’s Conservation Compliance Program was designed to ensure that Federal farm programs did not encourage crop production on highly erodible land (HEL) in the absence of measures to protect against soil erosion. Under this program, farmers who grow crops on HEL must apply an approved soil conservation system or risk losing eligibility for Federal income support, conservation, and other payments.

  • Land Retirement and Working-land Conservation Structures: A Look at Farmers' Choices

    Amber Waves, July 01, 2006

    All sizes and types of farms have adopted conservation practices and installed conservation structures. Programs that support a wide range of alternative conservation practices are more likely to match the wide range of interests of farmers. Recent ERS research suggests that farms and farm households that install working-land conservation structures-such as contour strips or grass waterways-often differ from those that retire farmland.

  • On The Map 2

    Amber Waves, July 01, 2006

    Today, nearly 35 million acres of environmentally sensitive cropland are enrolled in the CRP. Total acreage hasn’t changed much since 1990, but the geographic distribution of enrolled acres has shifted. About half of current CRP land is re-enrollment of land originally enrolled between 1986 and 1992; the remainder is newly enrolled land.

  • Conservation Programs: Balancing Outcomes With a Selection Index

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2006

    Conservation program managers often use a “selection index” to rank and select applicants based on how well the offered land provides environmental improvements in a cost effective manner. This finding describes how changing the relative priorities of program objectives in the selection index affect outcomes in the Conservation Reserve Program.

  • Behind The Data

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2006

    USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) uses the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) to evaluate and rank land offered for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The EBI aggregates different environmental objectives and a cost objective into a single number.

  • Land Retirement and Working-Land Conservation Structures: A Look at Farmers' Choices

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2006

    All sizes and types of farms have adopted conservation practices and installed conservation structures. Programs that support a wide range of alternative conservation practices are more likely to match the wide range of interests of farmers. Recent ERS research suggests that farms and farm households that install working-land conservation structures-such as contour strips or grass waterways-often differ from those that retire farmland.

  • Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2002

    EIB-14, May 31, 2006

    This publication presents the results of the latest (2002) inventory of U.S. major land uses, drawing on data from the Census, public land management and conservation agencies, and other sources. The data are synthesized by State to calculate the use of several broad classes and subclasses of agricultural and nonagricultural land over time. The United States has a total land area of nearly 2.3 billion acres. Major uses in 2002 were forest-use land, 651 million acres (28.8 percent); grassland pasture and range land, 587 million acres (25.9 percent); cropland, 442 million acres (19.5 percent); special uses (primarily parks and wildlife areas), 297 million acres (13.1 percent); miscellaneous other uses, 228 million acres (10.1 percent); and urban land, 60 million acres (2.6 percent). National and regional trends in land use are discussed in comparison with earlier major land-use estimates.

  • 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.

  • On The Map

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2006

    On the Map - April 2006

  • In The Long Run

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2006

    In the Long Run - April 2006

  • 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.

  • Rewarding Farm Practices versus Environmental Performance

    EB-5, 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 whether to pay for conservation practices or to link payments to environmental performance.

  • Greening Income Support and Supporting Green

    EB-1, 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 combining income support and environmental objectives in a single program.

  • 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.

  • Conservation-Compatible Practices and Programs: Who Participates?

    ERR-14, February 01, 2006

    This report examines the business, operator, and household characteristics of farms that have adopted certain conservation-compatible practices, with and without financial assistance from government conservation programs. The analysis finds that attributes of the farm operator and household and characteristics of the farm business are associated with the likelihood that a farmer will adopt certain conservation-compatible practices and the degree to which the farmer participates in conservation programs. For example, operators of small farms and operators not primarily focused on farming are less likely to adopt management-intensive conservation-compatible practices and to participate in working-land conservation programs than operators of large enterprises whose primary occupation is farming.

  • A Multitude of Design Decisions Influence Conservation Program Performance

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2005

    Designing a voluntary conservation program requires several types of decision criteria to encourage farmers to apply and to determine who can participate in the program. These decisions act as a winnowing process, starting with all farmers and ranchers and resulting in a pool of program participants.

  • Improving Air and Water Quality Can Be Two Sides of the Same Coin

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2005

    Agricultural production practices have generated a variety of substances that enter the atmosphere and have the potential of creating health and environmental problems. Two challenges for reducing air emissions from agriculture are potential inter-relationships with water quality, and a lack of information on farm-level emissions needed for effective regulation and management.

  • New Releases

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2005

    Highlights of new publications from ERS - September 2005