Economists weigh in on ag conservation

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 11, 2012 -A group of agricultural economists released a series of reports intended to elevate the importance of conservation as a major economic issue during House Agriculture Committee deliberations today on the 2012 Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM).

The Conservation Crossroads in Agriculture series released Tuesday by the Council on Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics (C-FARE) features four peer-reviewed reports tackling key elements of conservation policy that are slated for debate as the farm bill moves forward.

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The topics include the design of maximum-benefit and cost-efficient conservation programs, the implications of reducing the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the impact of crop insurance subsidies on conservation and the impact of changing the federal incentive structure for Conservation Compliance programs.

University of California at Berkley Professor David Zilberman and University of Connecticut Professor Kathleen Segerson released the Top Ten Design Elements to Achieve More Efficient Conservation Programs, which examines how conservation programs for agriculture provide significant social and environmental benefits. The paper outlines a “Top 10” list of improvements for program outcomes and elements to consider when designing a conservation program in order to get the “biggest bang for the buck, both for taxpayers and the environment.”

A report by Oregon State University Professors JunJie Wu and Bruce Weber, Implications of a Reduced Conservation Reserve Program, analyzes the economic and environmental impacts of reducing the size of the CRP.

Although the focus on cutting federal spending in a time of historically high commodity prices boosted critics of CRP, the paper indicates that economic benefits of the program outweigh the costs to taxpayers. The paper concludes that proposals to cap the program at 25 million acres would result in significant loss of environmental and societal benefits.

A third report by University of California, Davis Professor Daniel Sumner and Ohio State University Professor Carl Zulauf, entitled Economic and Environmental Effects of Agricultural Insurance Programs, suggests that the crop insurance program could result in less diversification of crops, expanded planting on marginal land and increased potential for adverse environmental impacts of farming.

“The evidence is becoming more clear that, on net, crop insurance subsidies are really bad news for environmental consequences from agriculture,” said Sumner in a call with members of the media yesterday.

Examining the Relationship of Conservation Compliance and Farm Program Incentives, authored by Purdue University Professor Otto Doering and American Farmland Trust's Katherine “Kitty” Smith, maintains that the program benefits of conservation compliance outweigh the costs of compliance for farmers and highlights the risks associated with changing the structure of compliance.

“Unless the incentives to be involved in the voluntary program are high enough, it is not going to work,” said Smith. “We can expect to see increases in soil erosion and water quality damage as a result of the decreased incentives for farmers to comply.”


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