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Top Economists Issue Reports on Economic Impacts of Conservation

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The Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, CFARE, has released a report series called The Conservation Crossroads in Agriculture and Tuesday top economists weighed in on agricultural conservation issues that should be discussed as Congress continues work on the 2012 Farm Bill.

American Farmland Trust Vice President of Programs and Chief Economist Kitty Smith says she believes the U.S. is at a crossroads when it comes to conservation policies. Smith says the legislation’s Conservation Title dates back to 1985. Based on the Senate’s version of the bill and what the House may do, this could be the first time conservation programs have lost funding.

“We know that conservation programs have worked remarkably well to protect sensitive environmental lands and ensure appropriate compensation to farmers for conservation practices. But we are facing a financial crunch and we have to realize that many excellent programs like the conservation programs may have to be cut. What makes it a crossroads is we get to decide how it’s going to be cut and how things can improve their program efficiencies so that we still get similar outcomes for lower budget expenditures.”

She says the economic impact of decisions being made is important, which is why top economists have provided their expertise in four key issue areas, including designing maximum-benefit, cost-efficient conservation programs, economic and environmental implications of reducing the Conservation Reserve Program, impact of crop insurance subsidies on conservation choices and land use, and the relationship of the changing federal incentive structure for conservation compliance programs and the program’s future impact.

Agriculture is the largest user of land and water resources in the nation. Smith says agricultural conservation has substantial off-site benefits and costs. She says U.S. farmers have always identified themselves as stewards of the land and resources on which they depend. Economists add an interesting perspective and numbers-based neutrality that is useful in the mix of information being pushed at policymakers from stakeholders on each side of an issue, according to Smith, who says knowing the economic consequences of decisions about conservation programs should help make decision making better. That is why Smith says the reports are so valuable.

A new poll from the National Farmers Union actually shows farmers view conservation as a priority that’s vital to their long-term economic viability. Nearly 75-percent of farmers say conservation programs help their bottom line. Smith says it’s important to understand conservation beyond the environment and federal dollars – which is what the reports help to do.

Crop Insurance has been a key factor in the farm bill debate and Smith says conservation plays into that debate. Subsidized Crop Insurance has an impact on how farmers make decisions on risky production practices. She says if a lot of the risk is covered farmers are free to make somewhat riskier decisions.[audio:https://www.hoosieragtoday.com//wp-content/uploads//2012/07/Economic-Impacts-of-Conservation.mp3|titles=Economic Impacts of Conservation]

Source: NAFB News Service