Policy Research and Development to Support Multiple Benefits from Agriculture: Phase II

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $95,350.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $461,350.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Carolyn van Schaik
Land Stewardship Project

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, peas (culinary)
  • Additional Plants: trees
  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: agroforestry, forestry, no-till, terraces
  • Education and Training: focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, hedges - grass, grass waterways, habitat enhancement, indicators, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, public participation, sustainability measures


    This project furthered the application of sound research to fair farm policy through the development of a universal farm cost-benefits analysis, on-farm research on the agronomic consequences of citizen-derived land use changes, and a campaign to educate through presentations, field events, peer-reviewed journal publications, web pages, fact sheets, and a watershed committee. Use of the “multiple benefits” lens through which to view agriculture and its myriad public goods has increased as a result. Organized public education is shaping the Conservation Security Program to better encourage and pay for stewardship outcomes; this work informs the mounting effort to improve the CSP in the 2007 Farm Bill.


    It is economically and environmentally beneficial to shift agriculture toward more diverse systems on actively farmed land - and if financial incentives motivate change, citizens are very willing to pay (Multiple Benefits of Agriculture Phase I executive summary).

    But how? Current federal farm policies primarily subsidize commodity-based production. Since income subsidies are determined in part by acreage in major row crops, the incentives offered by these policies discourage breaking out of the mold of conventional agriculture. These are the very same farming systems that have been found to contribute to environmental problems such as the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico (CAST 1999), soil loss, water contamination, stream bank destruction, habitat degradation, and economic and social problems such as price depression, loss of independent family farms from the region, and the decline of rural communities (Randall 2001).

    At the same time, conservation policies have attempted to mitigate some of these same environmental problems by providing cost-share programs to improve farming practices and for land retirement. Major benefits have been realized by these programs, especially in terms of soil conservation, wildlife habitat, and the removal of fragile lands from production. They don’t, however, adequately address working landscapes - the 50% of private lands (excluding Alaska) in the United States that are managed for crops, range, and/or pasture use (Heard et al. 2000). While soil erosion has slowed and pockets of farm country can report biological improvements, the dominant story is one of environmental decline.

    Simultaneously addressing the social issues and major environmental problems resulting from conventional farming will require the adoption of a different vision in agricultural policy.

    Project objectives:

    a. Farmers in contact with the project stop viewing conservation as a threat to their livelihoods.

    b. Farmers, agents, and the public reached by this project validate the non-market benefits of agriculture as a result of education and outreach.

    c. Farmers, agents, and the public realize they have a collective interest in stewardship farming.

    d. Farmers, agents, and the public begin to embrace the need for outcome-based farm payments to provide the necessary incentives for sustainable agriculture.

    e. At least 100 researchers, farmers, and other stakeholders are actively engaged in designing policy concepts and disseminating the process and its outcomes to colleagues.

    f. The above group plans a full demonstration project to test the policies and mechanisms on farm when separate funding is realized (Phase III).

    g. The public-at-large begins to exert pressure in favor of rewarding farmers for the non-market benefits of agriculture that result from their food and fiber production.

    In order to achieve these outcomes, our objectives are to:

    (1) Thoroughly develop policy concepts intended to reward farmers for utilizing integrated farming systems that result in significant environmental and social public benefits;

    (2) Create feasible and effective indicators and methods for measuring the environmental and social results of farm management;

    (3) Educate and involve stakeholders to understand the benefits of such policies; and

    (4) Recruit participants in a Minnesota demonstration project planning committee. This work will be affiliated with related demonstration projects at other national sites.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.