3
A Systems Approach to Soil and Water Quality Management

The preceding chapter defined four broad opportunities that should be pursued by national policies to prevent soil degradation and water pollution. These opportunities are to (1) conserve and enhance soil quality as the first step toward environmental improvement; (2) increase nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation use efficiencies in farming systems; (3) increase the resistance of farming systems to erosion and runoff; and (4) make greater use of field and landscape buffer zones. Realizing those opportunities depends on the ability and willingness of producers to change their management and production practices. Producers, however, do not make isolated changes in these practices. A change in one production or management practice affects other components of the farming system that producers manage. Programs and policies that pursue these four opportunities, therefore, should also incorporate a systems perspective.

LINKAGES AMONG OBJECTIVES

Inherent links exist among soil quality conservation, improvements in input use efficiency, increases in resistance to erosion and runoff, and the wider use of buffer zones. These links become apparent only if investigators take a systems-level approach to analyzing agricultural production systems. The focus of such an analysis is the farming system, which comprises the pattern and sequence of crops in space and time, the management decisions regarding the inputs and production practices that are used, the management skills, education, and objectives



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture 3 A Systems Approach to Soil and Water Quality Management The preceding chapter defined four broad opportunities that should be pursued by national policies to prevent soil degradation and water pollution. These opportunities are to (1) conserve and enhance soil quality as the first step toward environmental improvement; (2) increase nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation use efficiencies in farming systems; (3) increase the resistance of farming systems to erosion and runoff; and (4) make greater use of field and landscape buffer zones. Realizing those opportunities depends on the ability and willingness of producers to change their management and production practices. Producers, however, do not make isolated changes in these practices. A change in one production or management practice affects other components of the farming system that producers manage. Programs and policies that pursue these four opportunities, therefore, should also incorporate a systems perspective. LINKAGES AMONG OBJECTIVES Inherent links exist among soil quality conservation, improvements in input use efficiency, increases in resistance to erosion and runoff, and the wider use of buffer zones. These links become apparent only if investigators take a systems-level approach to analyzing agricultural production systems. The focus of such an analysis is the farming system, which comprises the pattern and sequence of crops in space and time, the management decisions regarding the inputs and production practices that are used, the management skills, education, and objectives

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture of the producer, the quality of the soil and water, and the nature of the landscape and ecosystem within which agricultural production occurs. An integrated systems approach is necessary for the development of policies and programs to accelerate the adoption of farming systems that are viable for producers, that conserve soil quality, and that do not degrade water quality (Jackson and Piper, 1989). LINKAGES AMONG PROGRAMS A broad range of programs at the local, state, and federal levels seek to solve the environmental problems associated with agricultural production. FARMING SYSTEM PLANNING Development of an integrated farming system plan begins with an inventory of farm resources. This inventory is meant to provide the data to answer some of the following questions: Are there opportunities to improve pest, nutrient, or soil management through crop rotation? Are there livestock enterprises on the farm or nearby farms from which animal manures might be collected and used as nutrient inputs? What amount of pest control inputs have been used in the past? How are irrigation applications scheduled? Are land ownership or lease arrangements an obstacle to changes in farm management? Does the producer participate in U.S. farm programs? Does the equipment inventory allow or hinder the capability to improve tillage practices and residue management? How soon is tillage, application, or other capital equipment scheduled for replacement? How aware are producers of problems in their operations? What are producers' perceptions of the risks involved in changing their current farming systems? Once a general picture of the farm enterprise emerges, more detailed information on production practices needs to be assembled. Often, records of input use, soil tests, crop yields, and other data are not available and must be constructed as completely as possible from memory to answer the following questions: What is the crop rotation history on a field-by-field basis? Are credits for the nitrogen fixed by legumes taken when making fertilizer applications? Has manure routinely been applied only to a small, particular area? Have particular pest problems been associated with a particular field, a particular area within a field, or a particular crop or cropping sequence? What do soil analyses indicate about the relative soil quality and soil fertility between fields?

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture Ribaudo and Woo (1991) reported that various erosion control measures have been adopted by 17 states, nutrient control measures by 17 states, pesticide control measures by 16 states, land use control measures by 3 states, and input taxes by 4 states. A similar diversity of programs exists at the federal level (see Tables 1-1 and 1-2 in Chapter 1). All of these local, state, and federal programs have specific objectives that address soil erosion; nutrient, pesticide, or irrigation water management; and protection of wetlands or other environmentally sensitive lands. The objectives of one program can conflict with, complement, or reinforce the objectives of other programs at the farm level, where the programs are ultimately implemented. Such inconsistency between the Have fertilizers and nutrient management been used on a field-by-field basis or uniformly across the farm? What have been the crop yields from individual fields? At this stage improvements can begin. These might range from conservation plan improvements to input adjustments based on the results of soil tests. Fields or parts of fields where manure has been applied or legumes grown can be targeted for detailed soil sampling so that the producer can appropriately adjust fertilizer inputs. Further refinements can be made by assessing the soil resources within each field since the soils within a field can vary dramatically. Adjustments to, for example, tillage practices and the inputs used can increase both the economic and environmental performance of the field. Fertilizer applications, for example, should be different on the top of a hill than on the side of a hill. Particular weed problems are often associated with microclimatic conditions related to the different soils located in different parts of the landscape. The yield potential can be much different on different soils in the same field; adjusting the inputs to the parts of the field with different yield potentials can increase input use efficiency. The progression from whole-farm analysis to field-by-field and intrafield improvements is a process that takes place in steps. The producer can stop the process at any stage at which the increased cost of refined management is too high or information is not yet available to move to the next step. Movement from step to step requires better information management and improvements in the skills of the producer. Typically, implementation of such improved management requires development of a multiyear plan, which involves improved on-farm data collection, management alterations, and improved record keeping. Full implementation may be delayed until capital investment in new equipment or facilities is feasible, because of a multiyear crop rotation, or until the producer's experience with the new farming system removes doubts about its efficacy and allows the producer to overcome a perceived risk of economic loss resulting from implementation of the new farming system. In some instances, the plan is best implemented on a portion of the farm, side by side with the producer's normal management system, to increase confidence that the recommended changes will in fact work.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture objectives of different programs is most likely to occur when programs promote narrow technical solutions for individual problems. Multiple programs that promote different technical solutions to different problems at the farm level increase the chance for incompatibility. The linkages between program objectives become clearer if a systems approach is used to integrate activities at the local, state, and federal levels. ADVANTAGES OF FARMING SYSTEMS APPROACH Use of the farming system rather than individual best-management practices as the foundation for efforts to improve soil and water quality pays off in five ways: addresses resource and enterprise variability; provides a basis for targeting programs and financial support where improved soil and water quality is most needed; provides a basis for coordinating local, state, and federal programs; increases the chances of exploiting opportunities to simultaneously improve financial and environmental performance; and, increases the flexibility to adapt programs and policies to changing resource or market conditions. Variability Directing national policy toward solutions that improve soil and water quality has been made more difficult because of the geographic variability in the resources and enterprises that characterize agricultural production systems in the United States. This difficulty is exacerbated by the need to integrate the activities of local, state, and federal programs. A systems approach can be based on management principles that are applicable to the variable conditions of different farming systems and different regions. National-level programs can be based on-farming system plans that can be developed by using uniform criteria. Such uniform criteria can provide a more rigorous basis for determining whether producers or programs are meeting their objectives. Targeting Farming systems can be analyzed at regional scales to set national priorities. Analyzing nutrient inputs and outputs at regional scales, for example, is an effective way to target those regions where improvements in nutrient management are most likely. Figure 3-1 provides a regional breakdown of the balance between nutrient inputs and outputs

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture Figure 3-1 Proportion of national nitrogen and phosphorus inputs and balances contributed by each farm production region. Nitrogen and phosphorus balances are the differences between total nitrogen and phosphorus inputs and the nitrogen and phosphorus removed with the harvested crop or in crop residues. See the Appendix for a full discussion of the methods used to estimate nitrogen and phosphorus inputs, outputs, and mass balances.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture by farm production region. Directing efforts to improve nutrient management to those regions with the greatest balance of inputs over outputs is a first step toward targeting. This kind of analysis can be done at the farm, watershed, regional, or state level to further refine targeting efforts. Similar analyses could be conducted for irrigation water, pesticides, and other inputs. Incorporating a farming system perspective, into targeting can also help identify those farming systems within those geographically defined priority areas that should be the focus of attention. Programs could be directed at farming systems that, because of their management or location, cause a disproportionate share of soil and water quality problems. The focus of targeting, then, would shift from defining geographic regions to identifying the opportunities to change farming systems within priority areas. Integration Farming systems analysis provides a way to integrate the objectives of environmental programs at the local, state, and federal levels. A farming systems approach, for example, helps to make clear the relationship between programs to reduce erosion and programs to improve nutrient management. The impacts of individual programs on-farming systems could be determined prior to implementation, and redundant or conflicting elements could be identified early in the policy design and implementation process. Win-Win Opportunities Systematic analysis of input use, cropping systems, and tillage practices increases the likelihood that opportunities to simultaneously improve financial and environmental performance will be identified. Accounting for on-farm resources, such as nutrients from legumes or manures, can lead to improvements in nutrient management that reduce costs as well as improve soil and water quality. Similarly, a more integrated approach to analysis of weed problems can identify weedy spots in fields that need special treatment, while pest control expenditures for other parts of the field can be reduced. Win-win opportunities also exist for program managers. A farming system approach will result in recommendations that are more appropriate to specific farms, eliminate inconsistent and conflicting recommendations, and direct the attention of program managers to those clients most in need of technical assistance. Such an approach promises

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture to increase the effectiveness of programs and the efficiency with which recommendations can be implemented by producers. Adaptability The same systems approach that is used at the enterprise level can be extended to the multiple-farm, landscape, watershed, or regional scales to direct targeting and program evaluation. Table 3-1, for example, presents the types of information and analyses that can be used at various scales to guide soil and water quality programs. FARMING SYSTEM AS UNIT OF ANALYSIS AND MANAGEMENT The farming system should be the unit of analysis and management used to direct local, state, and federal programs to protect soil and water quality. Environmental programs to protect soil and water quality should be evaluated on the basis of the effects of the recommended management and production practices on the total farming system. Changes in the management of farming systems rather than the adoption of individual best-management practices should be the goals of environmental programs. The linkages among soil quality, input use, erosion and runoff, and buffer zones can be managed only at the farming system level. Similarly, the linkages among different local, state, and federal programs are best understood by analyzing how these programs affect farming systems. Failure to recognize and manage these inherent linkages increases the likelihood that trade-offs between protecting soil versus water quality, protecting surface water quality versus groundwater quality, or reducing the loadings of one pollutant versus another will impede progress toward overall improvements in soil and water quality. Integrated Farming System Plans Integrated farming system plans are the best mechanism available now for implementing a farming systems approach at the farm level. The current array of soil and water quality programs provides an opportunity to incorporate an integrated farming systems approach into U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) soil and water quality improvements efforts. The multiplicity of practices, objectives, and plans associated with these initiatives is a good example of the need for integrated farming system plans to coordinate the activities of different programs and agencies at the farm level.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture TABLE 3-1 Application of Farming System Approach at Different Geographic Scales Geographic Scale Farming System Physical Resource Data Socioeconomic Data Inventories and Analyses Farm Production Regions Dominant farming systems in multistate regions characterized by similar soils, hydrology, and commodities produced Soils, climate, and water availability Income, production costs, and structure of commodity markets and agricultural sector National Resources Inventory (SCS), production practices, costs of production, yields (ERS, NASS, Bureau of the Census), water quality monitoring (USGS, EPA, and state monitoring systems) State or Regional Subdivisionsa Farming systems characterized by similar pattern of crop or livestock production, e.g., cash grain, cash grain-beef-hogs, or irrigated potatoes Distribution of highly erodible land, indicators of soil quality, and surface water and groundwater quality monitoring Fluctuations in commodity and input prices, capital requirements, off-farm employment opportunities, land tenure Regional nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation mass balances; geographic information systems; hydrologic models; variability in production practices among producers; and segmentation of producers into target markets for program delivery Farm Pattern of input use, crop rotations, and livestock production in both space and time Soil mapping, indicators of soil quality, drainage, and existing conservation plans Producer attitudes, skills, goals; available equipment, capital and labor; land ownership; and participation in federal agricultural programs History of soil test results, crop and livestock production, pest problems, irrigation scheduling, input use, and tillage practices Field Within-field patterns of pest problems, moisture, and fertility and culture practices Soil testing keyed to soil mapping units; within-field history of nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation use; and identification of localized pest or fertility problems Field or production unit efficiency, e.g., yield goals versus historical yields achieved, costs per kilogram of commodity produced, and year-to-year variability in costs and returns Use of soil tests, soil maps, enterprise records of yields, pest problems, and input use to adjust production practices to variations in soils, drainage, or landscape position within the field NOTE: SCS, Soil Conservation Service, USDA; ERS, Economic Research Service, USDA; NASS, National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA; USGS, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior; EPA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. a State and regional subdivisions could include, for example, watersheds, major land resource areas, crop reporting districts, or other regions.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture The development and implementation of approved integrated farming system plans should be the basis for delivery of educational and technical assistance, should be the condition under which producers become eligible for cost-sharing dollars, and should be the basis for determining whether producers are complying with soil and water quality programs. Current programs, whether voluntary or nonvoluntary, are all based on a conservation planning approach. Plans are required for Conservation Compliance, Water Quality Incentive Program, the Integrated Farm Management Program option, and different elements of USDA's water quality initiatives. In addition, contracts that specify the practices that the producer should follow are required for the Conservation Reserve Program and for Agricultural Conservation Program cost-sharing agreements. Similar conditions of use and management are established in easements under the Wetland Reserve Program. Other plans will be required to comply with provisions of the 1990 Coastal Zone Management Act Reauthorization Amendments (PL 101-508). It is possible that a single producer could be required to implement a conservation compliance plan stipulating erosion control measures for those fields that are highly erodible; a cost-sharing agreement with the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service of USDA stipulating the management practices required to maintain a specific structure, such as a terrace or grassed waterway, for which the producer receives cost-sharing dollars; a water quality plan tied to receipt of incentive payments under the Water Quality Incentives Program; and, increasingly, a nutrient management plan to meet the requirements of state water quality regulations. The effectiveness of these programs and plans will be increased if they are based on a single integrated farming system plan that balances multiple objectives and ensures that single-objective best-management practices designed to reduce erosion, improve nutrient and pest management, or improve the management of irrigation water, for example, are not working at cross purposes. The objectives of conservation efforts are multiple; the traditional concern for reducing soil erosion has been combined with the need to reduce loadings of nutrients, pesticides, salts, and sediments to surface water and groundwater. Encouraging or requiring the adoption of single-objective best-management practices is no longer a sufficient basis for soil and water quality programs at the farm level. Integrated farming system plans that address (1) conservation and enhancement of soil quality, (2) increased input use efficiencies, (3)

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture increased resistance of soil to erosion and runoff, and (4) field and landscape buffer zones are needed if the multiple objectives of improving soil and water quality are to be met and trade-offs are to be minimized. The Soil Conservation Service of USDA is beginning to use integrated farming system plans through its proposed Resource Management System. The Soil Conservation Service proposed that resource management systems address multiple objectives and the best-management practices that can be integrated into a farming system plan to improve soil and water quality. The first step toward implementing a farming systems approach to improving soil and water quality should be to replace current single-objective plans required to receive financial assistance through the Agricultural Conservation Program, Water Quality Incentives Program, and other programs with integrated farming system plans. Receipt of cost-sharing dollars should be conditional on the development of an integrated farming system plan that clearly specifies how the WIN-WIN OPPORTUNITIES: A SYSTEMS APPROACH ON A PENNSYLVANIA DAIRY FARM Lanyon and Beegle (1989) studied a 56-ha (138-acre) dairy farm in central Pennsylvania as a model for whole-farm planning to improve nutrient management. The farm is a good example of how a farming system approach can improve soil, water quality, and profitability. Lanyon and Beegle calculated nutrient balances using the producer's records of crop yields; the amounts of fertilizer and manure applied; sales of crops, milk, and livestock; and the amount of livestock feed purchased. Nutrient budgets for individual fields revealed that substantial reductions in the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium were possible if inputs from manure were properly credited. The data for one corn field, for example, revealed that manure provided 277 percent as much phosphorus and 463 percent as much potassium as was removed by the corn crop. Application of purchased sources of these nutrients, except for starter fertilizers, could be suspended. The amounts of phosphorus and potassium applied to the alfalfa field were less than those removed by the crop, but soil tests revealed very high levels of phosphorus and potassium in the soil and supplementary applications of phosphorus and potassium to alfalfa were not needed. The use of on-farm supplies of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium from manure and legumes reduces production costs and the potential for losses of nutrients to surface water or groundwater. The results for the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium balances in the livestock unit suggest that improvements in manure collection and manure storage facilities could substantially increase the efficiency with

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture cost-sharing practice or structure supports implementation of the farming system plan. Implementation of the farming system plan, in addition to maintenance of the cost-sharing practice or structure, should be required as a condition of the cost-sharing agreement. The planning and implementation requirements for the Water Quality Incentives Program already approach this recommendation. In the long-term, the implementation of an integrated farming system plan should be required for producers in regions where soil and water quality problems are severe regardless of their participation in federal farm programs. About 55 million ha (135 million acres) of U.S. cropland (about 32 percent of all U.S. cropland) will be subject to Conservation Compliance erosion control plans if producers want to receive federal farm program benefits. Full implementation of Conservation Compliance plans on these lands should help to improve soil quality and increase the soil's resistance to erosion and runoff. Soil and water quality benefits from implementation of these compliance plans could be much more comprehensive, however, which producers can use the nutrients in manure. Purchased feed contributed substantially to the total nutrient flow in the farm. The nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium supplied to the livestock enterprise from on-farm sources alone, however, provided 125 percent of the nitrogen, 87 percent of the phosphorus, and 186 percent of the potassium accounted for in livestock products and manures, suggesting that there may be substantial opportunities to refine the composition of livestock feed. The systematic analysis of this dairy farm revealed that the best means of improving environmental and financial performance are to make better use of on-farm nutrient sources by redistributing nutrients to fields on the basis of soil test results, nutrient application history and crop history; make better use of on-farm nutrient sources by improving manure collection and storage to reduce manure losses from the barnyard; and refine the feed composition, which would perhaps reduce the need for purchased feeds. Implementation of a single best-management practice, increased soil testing, or construction of manure storage facilities, for example, would address only one component of what is required to improve nutrient management on the dairy farm. The effectiveness of soil testing or manure storage facilities will be greatly increased if they are part of a more comprehensive nutrient management approach. It is the nutrient management approach, not the practices adopted, that determine success. Similarly, it is the management approach, as reflected in an integrated farming system plan, that should be the basis of efforts to improve soil and water quality.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture that are relevant to the producers affected by the problem (Grunig et al., 1988). This type of knowledge can be used to determine exactly what farm management and production practices contribute to soil and water quality degradation; what changes in management are suitable given existing knowledge levels, the nature of current farming practices, and the flexibility to invest human capital or fiscal resources in new practices; and what information and assistance mechanisms currently have high credibility and use among target populations. Answers to these questions prior to program implementation will allow a level of targeting that is not now being used. Regional and National Data Collection Full implementation of an integrated approach to planning and directing programs to prevent soil degradation and water pollution will only be possible if information of the appropriate density and quality is available. Providing this information will require coordinated efforts at local, state, and national levels. Concerted efforts at the state and local levels should be undertaken to collect new data and find ways to link data that is already collected for other purposes to provide the foundation for more integrated approaches to preventing soil degradation and water pollution. In many cases, existing data are not well suited to integrated approaches to program planning and direction. National data on soil and water resources such as the National Resources Inventory provide useful information for large regional scales but are not dense enough for use in the county, watershed, or smaller scale applications required to implement a systems approach at the local level. Data available at the local level, such as that found in soil surveys, are often difficult to link with other data sets that have been assembled for different purposes, such as participation in federal farm programs or cropping histories assembled by county offices of USDA's Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. The lack of systematic data on production practices is a particularly serious obstacle to targeting, monitoring, and designing soil and water quality programs. When such information is available, it is often not geographically based or linked to physical information about soil and water quality degradation. This lack of linkage between relevant natural resource data, production practices, and socioeconomic data limits the

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture ability to realize improved targeting and program direction from an integrated approach based on- farming systems (Fletcher and Phipps, 1991). Geographic information systems (GISs) have the potential to greatly increase the usefulness of existing and provide new data to implement a systems approach to soil and water resource programs (Fletcher and Phipps, 1991). GISs are designed to collect, manage, analyze, and display data spatially; they can be used in combination with other models as a way to enhance targeting, planning, and directing programs. For example, Prato and coworkers (1989) used a GIS to assemble and retrieve physical measures of erosion. The GIS was linked with a linear programming model to determine an economically efficient system for reducing pollution. The water quality effects of such economically efficient solutions were evaluated by using the Agriculture Nonpoint Source Model. A farm practices inventory obtained economic data that were combined with a microcomputer budget management system and an erosion planning model (Figure 3-3). Ultimately, the researchers designed a resource management system that would obtain the most income while making the desired reductions in pollutants. Reports by Tim (1992) and Hamlett and colleagues (1992) are also good examples of the potential to use GIS to target problem watersheds. The collection of data and the development of GISs will greatly increase the ability to implement integrated approaches at the state and local levels. Similar improvements in data collection, particularly the collection of systematic data on production practices, are needed to implement a systems approach to developing and directing national policy. The Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the Soil Conservation Service should assemble currently available information to provide baseline information about production practices and agronomic behaviors. The ability to target and direct programs is seriously constrained by the lack of comprehensive and representative data on the production practices and agronomic behaviors of agricultural producers. Few comprehensive and representative data are available on producers' nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation water management practices. Better, but still limited, information on tillage systems and erosion control practices is available. This lack of information makes it difficult to set realistic goals, identify the changes in farming practices that should be sought through environmental programs, or evaluate how effective programs have been and what remains to be done.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture FIGURE 3-3 Use of a geographic information system to target and direct soil and water quality programs. AGNPS, agriculture nonpoint source model; USLE, universal soil loss equation; EROPLAN, erosion planning model; MBMS, microcomputer budget management system; RMSs, resource management systems. Source: T. Prato, H. S. R. Rhew, and M. Brusuen. 1989. Soil erosion and nonpoint source pollution control in an Idaho watershed. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 44:323-328. Reprinted with permission from © Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. The Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the Soil Conservation Service should assemble all currently available data on production practices and agronomic behaviors. This information, if assembled in one place, would be very helpful for the direction of policy. The effort to assemble these data would also be the first step toward identifying the gaps in current data collection that need to be filled.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture The Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the Soil Conservation Service, in coordination with the Bureau of the Census, should develop, test, and implement ongoing surveys of production practices and agronomic behaviors. The Economic Research Service and the National Agricultural Statistics Service are expanding current surveys of production practices. It is essential that such surveys continue over time to allow monitoring of changes in production practices. The value of production practice and agronomic behavioral data will be greatly enhanced if they can be linked to soil and water quality problems. The return on the current investment in data collection would be much greater if methods were developed to geographically link the data already collected in current and ongoing surveys. Such linkage should have as its goal improved policy formulation and implementation, particularly targeting. The topographically integrated geographic encoding and referencing (TIGER) system, developed by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, could serve as a model for integrating agricultural census and farming system data with various land and water resource data bases. In addition, this spatial data base could contain information on factors such as the primary and secondary types of farming systems, the production activities that cause the most soil degradation or water pollution, the use of remedial production practices, and other factors that may influence the implementation of policies. IMPLEMENTING A SYSTEMS APPROACH USDA, EPA, and state and local programs provide important opportunities to implement a systems approach to preventing soil degradation and water pollution. These programs, however, will have to be restructured and redirected, in some cases, to implement a systems approach. Increasing the resistance of farming systems soils to erosion and runoff has historically been the overriding objective of USDA soil and water conservation programs. More emphasis is now being placed on protection of water quality in USDA programs. Tables 1-1 and 1-2 in Chapter 1 list the soil and water quality programs administered by the USDA, and the new initiatives passed as part of the 1990 Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act (PL 101-624). New USDA programs such as the Water Quality Incentives Program, the Wetland Reserve Program, and the Environmental Easement Program signal the increasing importance of water quality in USDA programs. The EPA's programs are also increasingly affecting agriculture (see

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture "Most important and least done about it" (February 6, 1936). Credit: Courtesy of the J.N. "Ding" Darling Foundation.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture Table 1-1). In 1990, states began implementing the management plans they were required to prepare under section 319 of the 1987 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (PL 100-4) (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1992). The 1990 Coastal Zone Management Act Reauthorization Amendments (PL 101-508) require states to develop nonpoint source control programs within the coastal zone. The state programs are required to include enforceable policies and mechanisms to implement pollution control practices, called management measures. Seven management measures—including erosion and sediment control, wastewater and runoff control from confined animal facilities, nutrient management, pesticide management, grazing management, and irrigation water management—will have direct effects on agricultural production in the coastal zone (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, 1993). State nonpoint source control programs, coastal zone programs, and the initiatives in the 1990 Food, Agricultural, Conservation, and Trade Act are important opportunities to address all four objectives proposed in this report: conserving and enhancing soil quality, improving input efficiency, increasing resistance to erosion and runoff, and making greater use of field and landscape buffer zones. Improved management of nutrients, pesticides, animal waste, or irrigation water is listed as an objective in all 16 demonstration projects and 74 hydrologic unit area projects that are part of USDA's Water Quality Initiative (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Working Group on Water Quality, 1991). These initiatives, along with the Water Quality Incentives Program represent a significant new commitment by the USDA to improve input management. Implementation of the management measures under 1990 Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments will also address the need to improve input management, and EPA's Office of Water (1982) reports that 24 percent of the management activities included in state nonpoint source pollution management plans address agricultural sources of pollution. The Wetland Reserve Program and the Environmental Easement Program created in the 1990 Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act are clear opportunities to make greater use of field and landscape buffer zones. Limited Funding Funding for these initiatives, however, has been limited. Significant new commitments of general revenues to agricultural soil and water quality programs have been made since 1985. Figure 3-4 shows that expenditures by USDA and related state and local programs have

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture Figure 3-4 Conservation expenditures by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and related state and local programs, 1983 to 1990. CRP, Conservation Reserve Program: Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. 1990. Conservation and Water Quality. Pp. 28–41 in Agricultural Resources: Cropland, Water, and Conservation Situation and Outlook Report. Report No. AR-19. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture. increased 2.5-fold to more than $3.4 billion since 1986. Almost all of the increase in expenditures, however, was for the Conservation Reserve Program. Spending for other purposes increased much less. In 1991, $51 million was provided by a grant through the EPA to help states implement plans to control nonpoint source pollution from all sources (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, 1992). Only part of those funds were expended to control agricultural sources of pollution. The Agricultural Water Quality Protection Program was implemented under the Agricultural Conservation Program as a cost-shared practice called the Water Quality Incentives Program. The program is expected to expend $6.8 million in 1992 (U.S. Department of

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture Agriculture, 1992). Expenditures for water quality incentives are about 3.5 percent of total Agricultural Conservation Program expenditures in 1992 and projected to be 8 percent in 1993. Limits on the amount of cost-share dollars that can be received by an individual producer participating in the Agricultural Conservation Program may, at times, be too low to cover a substantial share of the cost of adopting improved management practices. The Wetland Reserve Program was budgeted about $46 million expenditures in 1992 to enroll about 50,000 acres, and was budgeted for $160.9 million in fiscal year 1993 to enroll 381,000 acres (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1992). Congress, however, failed to appropriate any funds in fiscal year 1993 for the Wetland Reserve Program. No funds have been budgeted for the Environmental Easement Program. The historical emphasis on controlling erosion and runoff remains the focus of programs to control soil degradation and water pollution from agricultural production. In 1991, for example, 62 percent ($111.5 million) of the expenditures for cost-sharing the implementation of best-management practices in the Agricultural Conservation Program were for erosion control (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, 1992). Seventeen percent ($30.5 million) of the cost-share expenditure was for water quality improvement, and about $15.9 million of cost-share expenditure for water quality was for one practice—agricultural waste control facilities (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Conservation and Stabilization Service, 1992). Technical assistance provided by the Soil Conservation Service to producers is the single largest expenditure of federal funds for agricultural programs and totaled about $427 million in 1991 (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1992). About 10 percent or $44 million of technical assistance was allocated to the implementation of the water quality initiative (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1992). Most of the technical assistance provided by the Soil Conservation Service to producers since passage of the 1985 Food Security Act has been dedicated to helping producers determine whether their croplands are subject to Conservation Compliance, Sodbuster, or Swampbuster and to helping producers plan and implement conservation practices required under these programs (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1992). More money has been invested in the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wetland Reserve Program than all other conservation programs combined (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1992). The Conservation Reserve Program was budgeted $1,642.1 million in 1992 to enroll another 1.1 million acres (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1992).

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture New Sources of Funds Taxes on nutrient or pesticides inputs or reallocation of commodity program expenditures should be explored as ways to increase the funding available to support and sustain soil and water quality improvement programs over the long-term. Substantial reallocation of existing funds or a significant new source of funds will be needed if current initiatives and programs are to comprehensively address soil quality, input efficiencies, resistance to erosion and runoff, and field and landscape buffer zones. Reallocation of existing funds to priority areas will help supply the funds required to undertake the more intensive and refined efforts needed to improve farming systems. New sources of funds, however, will be needed to sustain these efforts over the long-term. Relatively low taxes on nutrient and pesticide inputs or transfers of funds from commodity programs have the potential to generate large new sources of revenue. Table 3-3 lists the 1992 expenditures for agricultural soil and water quality programs administered by USDA and EPA. Annual expenditures on technical assistance are less than 10 percent of annual expenditures for either pesticides or fertilizers on major commodity crops and 3 percent of Commodity Credit Corporation expenditures. All Agricultural Conservation Program expenditures for cost-sharing agreements with producers are about 3 percent of expenditures on either fertilizers or pesticides and about 1 percent of Commodity Credit Corporation expenditures. Expenditures for the Water Quality Incentives Program in 1992 represented only 0.1 percent of expenditures for either pesticides or fertilizers and 0.03 percent of Commodity Credit Corporation expenditures. Special consideration should be given to revenue sources such as taxes on agricultural chemicals, fuel, heavy tractors, moldboard plows, irrigation water, and other inputs that can be related to soil and water quality degradation from agricultural production practices or to transfers from Commodity Credit Corporation programs to soil and water quality programs. These sources should be explored as ways to generate the new funds needed to sustain soil and water quality programs. One percent ($128 million) of the annual 1990 expenditures of $12.8 billion on pesticides and fertilizers, for example, is more than 65 percent of the total 1992 expenditures on cost-sharing under the Agricultural Conservation Program, and more than 18 times the total 1992 expenditures on the Water Quality Incentive Program. New sources of funds will be needed to implement and sustain efforts

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture TABLE 3-3 Expenditures for Soil and Water Quality Programs as a Percentage of Expenditures on Pesticides, Synthetic Fertilizers, and Commodity Programs   Expenditures as Percentage of Spending on: Program Pesticidesa Fertilizersa Commodity Programsb USDA programsb Soil Conservation Service technical assistance 8.0 7.0 3.0 Agricultural Conservation Program All Cost-Share Spending 3.0 3.0 1.0 Water Quality Incentive Program 0.1 0.1 0.03 Conservation Reserve Program 30.0 24.0 10.0 Wetland Reserve Program 0.8 0.6 0.3 EPA programsc Nonpoint Program Grants 0.9 0.7 0.3 a The 1990 farm production expenditures for pesticides and for fertilizers and lime (pesticide, $5,727 million; fertilizers and lime, $7,137 million) were taken from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service. 1992. Statistical indicators—farm income. Pp. 58–61 in Agricultural Outlook. Rockville, Md: U.S. Department of Agriculture. b Estimated fiscal year 1992 expenditures in U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1992. 1993 Budget Summary. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Soil Conservation Service Technical Assistance, $478.0 million; Agricultural Conservation Program Cost-Share, $194.4 million; Water Quality Incentives Program, $6.8 million; Environmental Conservation Acreage Reserve Program, $1,786 million; Conservation Reserve Program, $1,740 million; Wetland Reserve Program, $46.4 million; commodity programs, Commodity Credit Corporation, $18,300 million). c Fiscal year 1991 expenditures ($51 million) in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1992. Managing Nonpoint Source Pollution: Final Report to Congress on Section 319 of the Clean Water Act (1989). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. to protect soil and water quality. Soil and water quality programs may achieve greater continuity if they are funded through a mixture of both general revenues and new revenues generated by taxes on agricultural inputs.

OCR for page 107
Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for Agriculture This page in the original is blank.