Agricultural Issues Center
University of California
1 Shields Avenue
Davis, California 95616
Tel:530-752-2320 Fax: 752-5451
Adaptation Strategies for Agricultural Sustainability in Yolo County, California”
The Bioeconomics of Honey Bees and Pollination
Agricultural Economic Impacts of Climate Change in Yolo County (Preliminary)
Economics of Carbon Credits from Voluntary Practices on Rice Farms in the Sacramento Valley
Impacts of AB 32 on Agriculture. Daniel A. Sumner and John Thomas Rosen-Molina.
California Agroecosystem Services:
Assessment, Valuation and Policy Perspective
A Framework for Assessment of California Agroecosystems
Evaluating Regulation and Conservation Policy
for California’s Agri-environmental Externalities
Using Biophysical Information in Policies for Agroecosystem Services in California
In the past few decades, U.S. agriculture has steadily cleaned up “its footprint” on the landscape but major challenges remain. In 1999, USDA’s Economic Research Service looked at the sustainability of U.S. agriculture and concluded that “Environmental programs exist and the resource base is depreciating but the extent of the effects is in the range that can be adequately addressed by thoughtful policy.” Studies that look at agriculture’s impacts on the environment and the use of conservation practices to minimize those impacts are challenged by a continuing lack of qualitative and quantitative data. Nonetheless, they paint a complex picture. The policy options available to increase the environmental sustainability of farming are varied. Regulatory approaches, like expanding conservation compliance (i.e., tying eligibility for federal payments to conservation behavior) or enacting a national environmental law for farming could be very effective but may not be politically feasible. Incentive-based approaches to help farmers adopt more conservation practices are more palatable to lawmakers and landowners and have broad public support. These options include increasing funding for conservation programs, consolidating, refining and simplifying programs to make them easier to use and more focused on producing environmental benefits, and introducing conservation loan guarantees or encouraging more cooperative conservation partnerships. The most intriguing, and perhaps most promising long term approach, however, is the possibility of creating markets for the environmental services offered by agriculture--including cleaner water, mitigation of greenhouse gases and flooding, wildlife habitat, and restoration of wetlands. With global climate change and the search for alternative energy sources, agriculture could potentially become a potent environmental service provider. For this reason, we are cautiously optimistic that the political will and policies to help agriculture implement the necessary conservation practices, create the necessary infrastructures and become a net provider of environmental services for this country is within our reach.
The Science of Sustainability in U.S.
The sustainability of U.S. agriculture must be considered from
a global perspective because U.S. agriculture accounts for the
greatest share of world food exports. Agriculture must address
the following global challenges: continued population increase,
limited arable land and water resources, climate change, and
rising prices for petroleum-based motor fuels. Of these, rising
fuel prices are having the largest impact on agriculture because
they are driving a rapid expansion of biofuel production from
grain, sugar, and oilseed crops—both in the U.S. and globally.
The benefits from biofuels are compelling: decreased reliance
on imported petroleum, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,
increased agricultural commodity prices and farm income, rural
jobs and economic development, and reduced crop subsidies. High
commodity prices will motivate farmers to increase crop yields
and expand production area. A marked acceleration in the rate
of yield gain for the major crops will be required to avoid conversion
of marginal land not suited for crop production, and conservation
of centers of biodiversity such as grassland savannahs, forests
and wetlands. Crop and soil management practices used to achieve
substantially higher yields must protect water and soil quality
and contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Although
it is possible to meet these challenges, the magnitude of scientific
innovation required has been underestimated. A dynamic, real-time,
site-specific, “ecological systems approach” will
be needed. Biotechnology and transgenic crops are not a silver
bullet. Eventually, development of cellulosic (biomass) ethanol
will reduce the need to use food crops for biofuels, but large-scale
deployment of cellulosic ethanol systems is 7-10 years away.
During this period, grain-sugar-oilseed biofuel systems will
build out to utilize a significant portion of global food crop
production. There is an urgent need to focus research and technology
development on ensuring the environmental sustainability of high-yield
food-crop systems to meet demand for both food and biofuels.
U.S. Farm Programs and Agricultural Sustainability (Powerpoint,
When Can Intelligent Design of Crops by Humans Outperform Natural
of Farm Programs in Environmental Sustainability of Agriculture
Briefing (pdf, 240k)
The main U.S. farm subsidy programs transfer between $10 billion and $25 billion per year to farms that produce wheat, rice, oilseeds, feed grains and cotton. These programs have evolved since the 1930s, but the basics remain. Subsidies stimulate additional production of the supported crops and thereby suppress market prices for those crops. Estimated production and price impacts range from just a few percent (for soybeans in recent years) to 10 to 15 percent or more (for cotton and corn in years when market prices are expected to be low). These impacts depend on the expected share of revenue from subsidy, the share of the U.S. crop in relevant markets and the price elasticities of supply and demand. These price impacts have been the basis for WTO complaints by trading partners. Although there are “conservation compliance” rules designed to reduce negative environmental consequences of commodity programs, subsidies continue to encourage use of additional resources and purchased inputs for these crops (i.e. more land, water, fertilizer, pesticides, etc.). Farm subsidies distribute most benefits roughly in proportion to production or land base in the program crops. That means that bigger farms get more, but there is no solid evidence that programs are biased towards larger farms or that they stimulate larger farm size. Payments benefit owners of farmland and suppliers of inputs and resources, whether they are farm operators or not. These benefits come at the expense of taxpayers and economic efficiency. In addition to commodity subsidies, farm programs include long-term land retirement (such as the Conservation Reserve Program) and so-called “working lands” programs (such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Security Program). Complex technical and economic issues surround effective targeting of such programs. One challenge is tying measured environmental outcomes to on-farm practices; another is designing schemes to maximize environmental benefits given limited funds. Some current programs allow farmers to bid for the lowest payment they would accept for undertaking certain practices (including land idling) on their farms. These bids are ranked by an estimate of environmental benefit per dollar and bids are accepted to achieve the most cost-effective outcome. It is challenging to design programs that facilitate more accurate measurement of environmental impacts and pay farms not for practices but directly for environmental or ecological services, either in the form of positive benefits from farmland use (such as carbon sequestration or wildlife habitat) or reduced negative environmental consequences of farming. Farm programs are scheduled for renewal, reformulation or removal with the 2007 Farm Bill that is now being developed in Congress. New legislation provides an opportunity to reconsider how farm programs contribute to national objectives and gauge if alternative roles for government might be better tuned to current realities and goals.