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

2004 Annual Report for LNC02-204

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

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


This project furthers 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 fact sheets, presentations, peer-reviewed journal publications, web pages, 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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

In terms of this project and beyond, 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 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.


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

The Multiple Benefits of Agriculture (MBA) Initiative continues to contribute to the shape and direction of policy to foster agricultural diversification and resulting public goods such as improved habitat and water quality, at the state and federal levels. Recent efforts include:
a. The MBA approach and language are embedded in preliminary materials on targeting state funds by the “Leveraging the Farm Bill Work Group,” an interagency and stakeholder group advising the Minnesota governor’s water cabinet about how to use state funds to leverage farm conservation programs.
b. LSP continues to be active with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency-led Impaired Waters Stakeholders by advocating for innovative farming systems that improve water quality.
c. State goals include the provision of public goods – the multiple benefits – as part of agriculture after an MBA presentation. The state’s Department of Natural Resources Policy Director will also advise LSP during this legislative session.
d. LSP helped to secure the support from the National Farmers Organization (NFO) for the Minnesota CREP proposal, despite the opposition of many farm groups to permanent easements.
e. During the last legislative session, Rep. Lyle Koenen and Rep. Dean Urdahl included provisions for pasture development and on-farm processing into a dairy modernization bill.
f. Leaders of NRCS’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) are now interested in seeing data from on-farm MBA research in Minnesota and Ohio as they consider how best to include other data in their overall watershed assessment approach. Our partner, Defenders of Wildlife, is now a member of CEAP’s national wildlife task force and LSP will be included in the grazing task force when it is formed.
g. We recruited several hundred farmers to submit concepts on the proposed CSP rule. MBA steering committee members and partners researchers did the same based on MBA research findings related to the public willingness to pay for non-market goods and the environmental benefits of increasing perennial cover on working farm lands.
h. LSP also developed a proposal for a new payment category with the CSP called “pastured cropland” as one way of supporting approaches that yield multiple benefits. This was included in the interim final rule.
i. LSP staff assisted the Sustainable Agriculture Committee (SAC) with the development of recommendations for changes in enrollment categories that do not penalize resource conserving crop rotations and grazing as much as was proposed initially.
j. Approval has been secured for a legislative workshop on performance-based farm policies: organizations such as the Northeast Midwest Foundation, the Congressional Research Service, and the Soil and Water Conservation Society will organize it with LSP taking the lead.
k. LSP helped found the Citizen’s Task Force on Livestock and Rural Community Development, which advocates the merging of successful livestock production with enhanced water quality and other public goods from family-sized farms. With MBA research as influence, its first report rings a clear message of how to optimize public good from farms.

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

a. In answer to the question of whether or not farmers can (let alone choose to) afford to make the changes the public says it will finance, Patrick Welle at Bemidji State University has completed a simplified cost-benefits analysis tool and is awaiting Logan Creek field data with which to test it. The project seeks 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. A watershed presentation will take place as well as several other informal gatherings of agents interested in the results.
b. 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. We are in the process (with separate funding) of using the CPT to change the land use under “what-if” scenarios to learn how species occurrence changes. The new scenarios match the agronomic modeling under way and were designed with significant input from watershed residents and local agents. The goal is to test this tool as a possible vehicle for determining performance at a quicker rate than what biological systems normally would permit. Stewardship payments could then be tied to a pre-determined expectation of performance.
c. This relationship between land use and the public good of wildlife habitat resonates with audiences better than when we speak generally about “multiple benefits” or “public good” or “non-market goods.” Since these connections are a critical step to change, this appears to be a major breakthrough.
d. Note that this work is presented in two lights: to let stakeholders draw their own conclusions about land use and habitat, and as a potential yardstick for federal farm incentive payments. These two routes allow us to further our long-term goals of making stewardship performance pay and helping the farming and non-farming public see the value of habitat-conserving land uses.

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

Many presentations and publications mark the work to date. Most currently are the following:
a. BioScience/ January 2005 publication of MBA results (http://www.landstewardshipproject.org/mba/Multifunc_Jan05_BioSc.pdf );
b. Six fact sheets on the Conservation Security Program rules have been posted to our CSP web page (http://www.landstewardshipproject.org/programs_csp.html);
c. Redesigned web page for the Multiple Benefits of Agriculture work: (http://www.landstewardshipproject.org/programs_mba.html)
d. Presented the results from the Multiple Benefits of Agriculture Initiative at the Minnesota River Research Forum in January ’04;
e. Whitewater River Watershed Technical Meeting presentation in January ’04;
f. Participated in Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service workshops with leaders from around the country and Program Leaders for CSREES in Wash.D.C. and listening sessions in Wisconsin in March ’04;
g. A briefing with Deputy Chief of Strategic Planning and Accountability of Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kathy Gugulis, and two top staff;
h. A briefing for Wayne Maresch and key staff of the Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Effects Assessment Project;
i. A briefing with Dov Weitman, Chief Nonpoint Source Control Branch, Office of Water, Environmental Protection Agency;
j. Presentation for scientists with the Agricultural Research Service, Soil Conservation Laboratory in Morris, MN as part of their 50 year anniversary in April ’04;
k. Presentation at the W. K Kellogg Conference in April as part of a panel, “Are We Making Real Progress? Measuring Sustainability on Agricultural Lands in the Upper Mississippi River Basin,” in April ’04;
l. Living Green Expo presentation in April ’04;
m. LSP Board of Directors presentations in April ’04;
n. Presented the MBA Initiative to the Commissioner and Associate Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in May ’04;
o. Co-prepared a paper on Farm Bill Programs for the Habitat Conservation Incentives Workshop in Wash. D.C. in June ’04;
p. Presented information on the MBA Initiative to Ohio environmental, agriculture, and academic leaders in June ’04;
q. Soil and Water Conservation Society International meeting presentations (3) by MBA steering committee members/researchers in July ‘04;
r. Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group meeting presentation in August ’04;
s. The Nature Conservancy presentation by steering committee member farmer Dan French in the Fall of ’04;
t. Minnesota Environmental Partnership presentation in the Fall of ’04;
u. Minneapolis Foundation/Minnesota Rural Partners conference presentation in December ’04;
v. Farmer policy meetings in Minnesota in February ’04.

(4) Recruit participants in a Minnesota demonstration project planning committee.

We have actively engaged and been engaged by some of the resident and agency players who live in or work with those who reside in the Logan Creek sub-watershed of the Whitewater River Watershed in Southeastern Minnesota. This watershed is the basis of an agronomic modeling research effort to predict environmental outcomes as a function of changing land use (with 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 willingness to pay for significant environmental improvements as a result of farm practices (see 2.a. above). The watershed was chosen in part because an earlier survey illustrated residents’ sentiments correlating farm policy and poor environmental outcomes.

A local steering committee was initiated at the beginning of this project but the past year has seen that group evolve into a more active and expansive group. We have successfully engaged some of the board members who direct the Whitewater River Watershed Project (a separate effort not led by LSP). Its director is an active member of the group, as well. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency support this project financially and staff has been regularly engaged as part of the steering committee. We also have held the interest of local agencies, specifically the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Farm Service Agency (for technical/GIS support), the Department of Natural Resources, and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The group has worked through “what-if” scenarios to be modeled for their land use and economic consequences given the present farming situation on Logan Creek farms and with these farmers. We’ve worked with the modeler (ongoing) so that he can actually use our scenarios to fruition. We’ve gone back and forth to guard the anonymity of the 13 interviewed farmers, to maintain the integrity of the results, to design a future that does not look so unfamiliar as to be outrightly dismissed. We are in the process of designing a presentation/road show that makes sense to a lay audience, to help it move by its own conclusion from status quo to something else with more perennial vegetation, more hope for farming, and greater engagement in farm policy as their policy.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Many of our point source impacts were highlighted above. There are four other arenas in which the MBA approach has opportunity to continue to influence:
a. An outcome-based reporting system that measures actual performance is now mandated for the NRCS, but it does not address perennial systems or the impacts of the CSP. The agency is interested in our MBA research, and project partners already sit on one of its steering committees.
b. The MBA research shows what can be accomplished by tieing environmental outcomes to higher payment and enrollment rates and measuring the potential for restored eco-system functions.
c. MBA research results encourage landscape diversification strategies under mounting pressure to meet Total Maximum Daily Load requirements and ever-tightening budgets.
d. U.S. subsidies for row crops are under scrutiny by the World Trade Organization whereas the MBA research suggests that switching public dollars from commodities to the CSP and similar programs could be done with no marginal cost to the taxpayer.

The process of involving our committee members in envisioning a healthier future as attainable continues to be difficult, but satisfying. Everyone is eager for the final results, for taking our vision to the watershed.

The work is teaching us all about the need not only to convince policy makers about the merits of reasonable stewardship payments but the work is also teaching us 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 trying mightily to honor with our economic analysis.


Members of LSP's Fed. Farm Policy Comm.

William Hunt

State Conservationist
MN office of the NRCS
Prasanna Gowda

Linda Dahl

Whitewater River Watershed Project
Lewiston, MN
Logan Creek Steering Committee

Lewiston, MN
Paul Brietzke

ag. consultant
George Boody

Exec Dir
Land Stewardship Project
Bill Thompson

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Rochester, MN
Dr. Kate Clancey

managing director
Henry A. Wallace Center for Ag.&Enviro. Policy
Mark Schultz

Dir., LSP Policy Program
Land Stewardship Project
Dr. Jonathan Winsten

agriculture economist
Henry A. Wallace Center for Ag.&Enviro. Policy
Dr. Patrick Welle

professor, environmental economist
Bemidji State University
Larry Gates

watershed coordinator
MN. Dept. of Natural Resources
Doug Thomas

assistant dir.
MN Bd of Water&Soil Resources
Dr. Frank Casey

natural resource economist
Defenders of Wildlife