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  • 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

  • Farmland Protection: The Role of Public Preferences for Rural Amenities

    AER-815, April 28, 2005

    Investigates the relative importance of preserving different amenities conserved by farmland protection programs. Examines farmland protection program enabling legislation in the 48 contiguous States, and implementation of these programs in five Northeastern States.

  • Current Activities

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2005

    Previews of research in the works at ERS - April 2005

  • The Conservation Reserve Program: Economic Implications for Rural America

    AER-834, October 08, 2004

    This report estimates the impact that high levels of enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) have had on economic trends in rural counties since the program's inception in 1985 until today. The results of a growth model and quasi-experimental control group analysis indicate no discernible impact by the CRP on aggregate county population trends. Aggregate employment growth may have slowed in some high-CRP counties, but only temporarily. High levels of CRP enrollment appear to have affected farm-related businesses over the long run, but growth in the number of other nonfarm businesses moderated CRP's impact on total employment. If CRP contracts had ended in 2001, simulation models suggest that roughly 51 percent of CRP land would have returned to crop production, and that spending on outdoor recreation would decrease by as much as $300 million per year in rural areas. The resulting impacts on employment and income vary widely among regions having similar CRP enrollments, depending upon local economic conditions.

  • Measuring the Success of Conservation Programs

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2004

    Many factors must be accounted for to determine the portion of environmental enhancements directly attributable to program incentive-induced changes in farmers’ practices. Still, carefully designed survey and monitoring programs encompassing each of those relationships in a coordinated fashion make such evaluation not only feasible, but well within reach.

  • How Does Farmland Retirement Affect Rural Counties?

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2004

    The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) offers incentives for producers and landowners to voluntarily retire highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive cropland from production. The program's benefits to the environment, CRP participants, and other crop farmers have made it a recurring focus of farm program legislation. However, the CRP's effect on farm communities is a concern.

  • Have Conservation Compliance Incentives Reduced Soil Erosion?

    Amber Waves, June 01, 2004

    With the 1985 Food Security Act, farmers are required to engage in conservation activities in order to receive government payments. This article focuses on the soil erosion impacts of "conservation compliance," which requires producers to apply and maintain conservation systems on highly erodible (HEL) cropland that was already in crop production in 1985 or risk losing government farm price and income support. The article finds that following implementation of conservation compliance and other conservation policy changes, soil erosion on U.S. cropland fell significantly.

  • Environmental Compliance in U.S. Agricultural Policy: Past Performance and Future Potential

    AER-832, May 28, 2004

    Since 1985, U.S. agricultural producers have been required to practice soil conservation on highly erodible cropland and conserve wetlands as a condition of farm program eligibility. This report discusses the general characteristics of compliance incentives, evaluates their effectiveness in reducing erosion in the program's current form, and explores the potential for expanding the compliance approach to address nutrient runoff from crop production. While soil erosion has, in fact, been reduced on land subject to Conservation Compliance, erosion is also down on land not subject to Conservation Compliance, indicating the influence of other factors. Analysis to isolate the influence of Conservation Compliance incentives from other factors suggests that about 25 percent of the decline in soil erosion between 1982 and 1997 can be attributed to Conservation Compliance. This report also finds that compliance incentives have likely deterred conversion of noncropped highly erodible land and wetland to cropland, and that a compliance approach could be used effectively to address nutrient runoff from crop production.

  • 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.

  • Beyond Environmental Compliance: Stewardship as Good Business

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2004

    Agricultural producers can benefit economically by voluntarily adopting environmentally beneficial practices. An efficient farm would minimize unnecessary applications of pesticides and fertilizer, enhancing the bottom line as well as minimizing environmental impacts. But additional incentives may exist for farms to invest in environmental management.

  • Emphasis Shifts in U.S. Agri-Environmental Policy

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2003

    With the passage of the 2002 Farm Act, policymakers have substantially increased conservation funding and made changes in program emphasis. The goals are to expand the amount of U.S. land and the number of farmers covered by conservation programs.

  • Greenbelts? Not Without Greenbacks

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2003

    About 95 million acres of U.S. cropland is subject to varying degrees of development pressure, or urban influence.

  • China's Agricultural Water Policy Reforms: Increasing Investment, Resolving Conflicts, and Revising Incentives

    AIB-782, March 03, 2003

    This report documents the problem of water scarcity in parts of northern China and describes China's agricultural water management policies as well as reforms underway to encourage water conservation.

  • Agri-Environmental Policy at the Crossroads: Guideposts on a Changing Landscape

    AER-794, January 25, 2001

    Agri-environmental policy is at a crossroads. Over the past 20 years, a wide range of policies addressing the environmental implications of agricultural production have been implemented at the Federal level. Those policies have played an important role in reducing soil erosion, protecting and restoring wetlands, and creating wildlife habitat. However, emerging agri-environmental issues, evolution of farm income support policies, and limits imposed by trade agreements may point toward a rethinking of agri-environmental policy. This report identifies the types of policy tools available and the design features that have improved the effectiveness of current programs. It provides an indepth analysis of one policy tool that may be an important component of a future policy package-agri-environmental payments. The analysis focuses on issues and tradeoffs that policymakers would face in designing a program of agri-environmental payments.

  • Adoption of Agricultural Production Practices: Lessons Learned from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Area Studies Project

    AER-792, January 01, 2001

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture Area Studies Project was designed to characterize the extent of adoption of nutrient, pest, soil, and water management practices and to assess the factors that affect adoption for a wide range of management strategies across different natural resource regions. The project entailed the administration of a detailed field-level survey to farmers in 12 watersheds in the Nation to gather data on agricultural practices, input use, and natural resource characteristics associated with farming activities. The data were analyzed by the Economic Research Service using a consistent methodological approach with the full set of data to study the constraints associated with the adoption of micronutrients, N-testing, split nitrogen applications, green manure, biological pest controls, pest-resistant varieties, crop rotations, pheromones, scouting, conservation tillage, contour farming, strip cropping, grassed waterways, and irrigation. In addition to the combined-areas analyses, selected areas were chosen for analysis to illustrate the difference in results between aggregate and area-specific models. The unique sample design for the survey was used to explore the importance of field-level natural resource data for evaluating adoption at both the aggregate and watershed levels. Further analyses of the data illustrated how the adoption of specific management practices affects chemical use and crop yields.

  • Economics of Water Quality Protection From Nonpoint Sources: Theory and Practice

    AER-782, November 30, 1999

    Water quality is a major environmental issue. Pollution from nonpoint sources is the single largest remaining source of water quality impairments in the United States. Agriculture is a major source of several nonpoint-source pollutants, including nutrients, sediment, pesticides, and salts. Agricultural nonpoint pollution reduction policies can be designed to induce producers to change their production practices in ways that improve the environmental and related economic consequences of production. The information necessary to design economically efficient pollution control policies is almost always lacking. Instead, policies can be designed to achieve specific environmental or other similarly related goals at least cost, given transaction costs and any other political, legal, or informational constraints that may exist. This report outlines the economic characteristics of five instruments that can be used to reduce agricultural nonpoint source pollution (economic incentives, standards, education, liability, and research) and discusses empirical research related to the use of these instruments.

  • Economic Valuation of Environmental Benefits and the Targeting of Conservation Programs: The Case of the CRP

    AER-778, May 13, 1999

    The range of environmental problems confronting agriculture has expanded in recent years. As the largest program designed to mitigate the negative environmental effects of agriculture, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has broadened its initial focus on reductions in soil erosion to consider other landscape factors that may also be beneficial. For example, preserving habitats can help protect wildlife, thus leading to more nature-viewing opportunities. This report demonstrates how nonmarket valuation models can be used in targeting conservation programs such as the CRP.

  • Partial Interests in Land: Policy Tools for Resource Use and Conservation

    AER-744, November 29, 1996

    Property rights arise out of law, custom, and the operation of private markets, with important implications for how land and other natural resources are used and conserved. Over the past several years, debate about the nature and scope of property rights has combined with budget concerns and reauthorization of the Farm Bill, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act to focus public attention on Federal natural resource policy. This report examines the nature of land ownership and the evolving Federal role in land use and conservation, with particular attention to the voluntary acquisition and conveyance of conservation easements and other partial interests in land.

  • The Conservation Reserve Program: Enrollment Statistics for Signup Periods 1-12 and Fiscal Years 1986-93

    SB-925, November 01, 1995

    This report is fifth in an ERS series summarizing CRP participation. Finds that more than 36 million acres were enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in signup periods 1-12, held during 1986-92. This acreage includes over 23 million commodity program base acres and nearly 2.5 million tree acres. Annual CRP rental payments average about $50 per acre, and annual soil erosion reductions average 19 tons per acre.