Policy Research and Development to Support Multiple Benefits from Agriculture: Phase II
This effort to promote the non-market public good of agriculture and policy has resulted in progress on two research fronts – environmental and economic – as well as significant input into federal and state policies to date. The project has produced several fact sheets, been represented at many events, maintains an active website, and has engaged a diverse audience around issues pertaining to the multiple benefits of agriculture and farm policy.
In the near- and intermediate-terms of this project, we intend to realize the following outcomes:
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 group noted above 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.
(1) Thoroughly develop policy concepts intended to reward farmers for utilizing integrated farming systems that result in significant environmental and social/public benefits.
The project has been and continues to be an active participant in the writing and shaping of the Conservation Security Program (CSP) Rules. Steering committee members contributed to the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the CSP and also to the EQIP Rule. Partners answered specific queries for information by Rules writers. We have discussed stewardship payments in many presentations (see #3. below). Presently, we are generating public comment to the CSP Rule by way of fact sheets, presentations on performance-based farm policy and the Multiple Benefits of Agriculture Project, attendance at conferences, and partner comments.
On the state level, partners are working to determine how best to influence Minnesota policies to foster agricultural diversification and resulting public goods such as improved habitat and water quality. Locally, LSP continues to be active with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency-led Impaired Waters Program (under the auspices of the Clean Water Act) by advocating for sustainable agriculture as a source of non-market public benefits. LSP has also been active in developing the state’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program proposal, in which its Phase I results have been adopted as the Governor’s recommendations for sediment reduction in southeast Minnesota.
In addition, and in potential answer to the question of whether or not farmers can or will choose to afford to make the changes the public says it will finance, Patrick Welle at Bemidji State University is making progress on an economic model with assistance from other project partners, especially the Defenders of Wildlife. The project is seeking a universal set of equations that will match stewardship payments with what conservation really costs by way of transition, risk, and lost and newly gained income. The goal is to inform policy makers with real farmer numbers so that farm policy aptly reflects the growing demand for public goods, the farmer’s true costs, and real incentive in stewardship payments. Still to come in this arena are the final analysis and testing of the equations with Logan Creek data (see #4. below).
The paper, “Review of Agri-Environmental Policies: Lessons for U.S. Policy,” is in final edit stage and will be available on websites by summer 2004.
(2) Create feasible and effective indicators and methods for measuring the environmental and social results of farm management.
Project partners have had some initial success with a new modeling program called the Conservation Planning Tool (CPT) in utilizing birds as indicators of land use performance goals. The Logan Creek sub-watershed in southeastern Minnesota is the research site, and predictions have been made for grassland as well as woody terrains. Still to come (with separate funding) is an attempt to change the land use under “what-if” scenarios to learn how species occurrence changes. The goal is to test this devise as a possible vehicle for determining performance at a quicker rate than what biological systems normally would permit. Stewardship payments would then be tied to a pre-determined expectation of performance that might be determined using a modeled prediction such as what the CPT might provide.
(3) Educate and involve stakeholders to understand the benefits of such policies.
Many presentations and several publications have been made to put the topic of multiple benefits from working farms on ever-increasing numbers of tables:
a. Fact sheet on Conservation Security Program rules posted on our website.
b. Worksheet called “How Farms Can Improve Water Quality: Minnesota studies show how working farmland can have a positive impact on water resources.”
c. Briefing sheets on the application of multiple benefits of grass-based perennial systems to total maximum daily loads and greenhouse gas reduction policies and food purchasing (in process. These are expected to be ready by spring 2004).
d. Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial, “Rural stewards/A federal plan with potential.” Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN Published January 7, 2004;
d. October 2003 press release on the relationship between the farm policy and farmers who say it is a barrier to sustainable agriculture (this linked findings from the SARE-funded Farmer/Lender/Educator surveys with stewardship-driven federal farm policy. It was picked up widely, including in Agri-News, where it formed the basis for an editorial, “Feds fight stewardship” Agri-News, MN Published October 30, 2003).
e. Active website with pages for the CSP and for the Multiple Benefits of Agriculture work. The latter will be updated with the Logan Creek and economics work by summer 2004.
f. Presented results from MBA Phase I and information about Phase II and the Monitoring Project results at Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference in December 2003. LSP was asked to convene and moderate the session called Tools for Riparian Management.
g. Asked to participate as one of 40 stakeholders on the Policy Working Group for the Minnesota Environmental Initiative’s Impaired Waters Initiative.
h. Presented MBA Phase I results and Monitoring Project results at a state and international workshop on participatory research at Kansas State University in November 2003. (Travel paid for by the PDP program.)
i. Presented MBA Phase I results and subsequent work in Logan Creek sub-watershed to the Whitewater River Watershed Joint Powers Board.
j. Presented MBA Phase I results to national program leaders at Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service in Washington DC in August 2003.
k. Presented MBA Phase I results to Defenders of Wildlife senior staff in August 2003.
l. Presentation at Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group summer meeting in Madison, WI in August 2003.
m. Invited to and participated in the Performance Based Environmental Policies meeting held in D.C. in March 2003, organized by the Wallace Center at Winrock and the Farm Foundation.
n. Participated in the Total Maximum Daily Load workshop hosted by the Minnesota Environmental Initiative and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in June 2003.
o. Presented the MBA Phase I results at the University of Minnesota’s Nutrient Management workshop in January 2003.
p. Presented MBA Phase I at Wisconsin Wetlands Association annual meeting in January 2003.
q. Presented results from MBA Phase I at Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference in December 2002.
r. Presented MBA Phase I results and Phase II policy ideas to meeting of European and US NGO, academic, and government officials in Massachusetts in November 2002.
s. MBA findings served as the data for presentations by Don Wyse and other regional collaborators to the Moore Foundation and Kellogg Foundation on the need to convert at least 15 million acres of row crops into perennial cropping systems to protect water quality and reduce the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
t. Published: “Agricultural land use effects on sediment loading and fish assemblages in two Minnesota watersheds.” In Environmental Management 32:1, pp93-105.
(4) Recruit participants in a Minnesota demonstration project planning committee.
The project is partnered with the Whitewater River Watershed Project in order to work with residents, especially farmers, in the Logan Creek sub-watershed. This watershed is the basis of an agronomic modeling research effort to predict environmental outcomes as a function of changing land use (using other funds). It also is the basis of an economic effort to calculate the real costs to farmers of making land use changes as compared to both the federal government’s current and forthcoming (CSP) incentives and the public’s willingness to pay for significant environmental improvements as a result of farm practices. The watershed was chosen in part because an earlier survey illustrated residents’ statements correlating farm policy and poor environmental outcomes.
Other partners in this effort include state and local agencies serving the greater watershed, US Fish & Wildlife Service staff, the University of Minnesota and Bemidji State University, and a private consultant who has collected the agronomic/economic data.
Over the course of several meetings, the group has adjusted the modeling questionnaire and hired the consultant (with separate funds) who has since conducted the interviews and delivered the data to the University of Minnesota modeler. The consultant will continue to play a role in the project, having helped on two occasions — with a third already on the books — to explain it in public forums.
A mailing was done to introduce the project to residents. A public meeting is planned for March to present research findings and to move the conversation toward the CSP and its broader issues.
Some attempts have been made, albeit seemingly futilely, to broach the “Blue Sky” questions that lace agronomic practices with measurable outcomes. More will be attempted at the March gathering.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This is a small watershed, about 11,000 acres and about 85 families, most of whom are no longer farming. Resident sentiments today still echo the findings of an earlier survey that pointed to a strong recognition that federal farm policy is counter-productive to the environmental and quality of life goals of watershed residents. Although those who have attended our meetings to date refrain from using such terminology as environmentalist, their presence and willingness to participate suggest an interest in such consequences. We are planning a watershed-wide public meeting in March and we hope this interest manifests itself in bringing along the neighbors. The agents who work with us in this watershed seem eager for the public outreach, eager for the research results. They are conventional sounding, very nice people – who keep coming back. We surely are hitting a chord of something here, though most people don’t let on overtly.
It should be noted that project steering committee partners view the Logan Creek effort as a possible prototype for such work anywhere in the country. The work is teaching us all about the need not only to convince policy makers about the merits of reasonable stewardship payments but of almost everyone of the connection between agriculture and the public goods it can provide. Residents of Logan Creek had already indicated some awareness of the negative role that federal farm policy plays on the landscape. In that sense, they may be ahead of the curve. But in other respects, they remind us in public meetings and private interviews how much their farming is driven first and foremost by the need to make a living. This is a universal requirement, one we are compelled to address with the economic work being pursued by project partners.
The process of engaging the watershed continues to be one of hills and valleys. One time at the end of a meeting, a young farmer said he still didn’t really understand what was going on. Thus the price of trying to involve everyone – it takes awhile, it’s very fluid, people are so busy, this is new stuff.
And yet the subject is on many tables; we have an historic federal farm policy even if the Rule as we know it (Feb. 2004) fails to match the legislation behind it; we are inching forward to a day when we have the tools to measure farmland performance and a policy to reflect the public’s desire for it.
MN office of the NRCS
Whitewater River Watershed Project
Land Stewardship Project
Henry A. Wallace Center for Ag.&Enviro. Policy
Land Stewardship Project
Henry A. Wallace Center for Ag.&Enviro. Policy
Bemidji State University
MN. Dept. of Natural Resources
MN Bd of Water&Soil Resources
Defenders of Wildlife