As Congress wrestles with the high-stakes policy decisions of the 2012 Farm Bill, a group of leading economists is weighing in on agriculture conservation issues with a series of reports intended to help inform the discussion and elevate the importance of conservation as a major economic issue during the current policy discussions.

The Conservation Crossroads in Agriculture report series was released this week by the Council on Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics (C-FARE), and features an initial four reports authored by top economists from around the country on key aspects of conservation policy. The reports were peer reviewed by noted authors and academics specializing in the particular subject matter. More reports will be issued in the future as part of the ongoing series.

“The changes made to conservation programs as part of the current policy context will have profound effects on our nation’s ecosystems, natural habitats, water quality and other critically important ecosystem services for decades to come,” said Damona Doye, Chair of C-FARE and Farm Management Specialist at Oklahoma State University.  “Just as importantly, these changes will also impact the livelihoods, farming productivity, and the well-being of rural communities across the nation.  The Conservation Crossroads in Agriculture series is designed to provide unbiased, high-level analysis from esteemed economists so that decision-makers have the most reliable, timely and actionable information available to them as they make these important decisions.”

The reports tackle four key areas currently being discussed in the context of the 2012 Farm Bill, including:

  1. Designing maximum-benefit, cost-efficient conservation programs;
  2. The economic and environmental implications of reducing the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP);
  3. The impact of crop insurance subsidies on conservation choices and land use; and,
  4. Examining the relationship of the changing federal incentive structure for the Conservation Compliance programs and the future impact of the program.

“American farmers have always identified themselves as stewards of the land on which they live and work.  As a nation, we have traditionally supported federal agriculture policies and programs that enabled these farmers to achieve this vision,” said Katherine Smith, a co-author of one of the reports, the former Administrator of USDA’s Economic Research Service, and current Chief Economist and Vice President for Programs at American Farmland Trust. 

“The current Farm Bill and related funding mechanisms raise questions about the role of federal farm policy in conservation funding, design and implementation going forward.  It’s critically important that lawmakers have access to the most current information and academic analysis on these important issues so that they can make informed decisions.”