technology and information, the more important obstacle to improving soil and water quality is the lack of incentives for producers to use the knowledge and technology that already exists.
Ultimately, it is the millions of management decisions producers make each year that determine the effect of farming systems on soil and water quality. The purpose of national policy should be to create the proper incentives that induce producers to change the way they manage their farming systems. There is, however, much less known about the factors that influence producers' choices of cropping, livestock, and enterprise management practices than there is about the technologies and management methods that will protect soil and water quality. Empirical information on the costs of changing farming systems is often lacking or is anecdotal.
Many factors influence the decisions that producers make—including market prices for inputs and products, the cost of new technologies, the labor and capital available to the producer, agricultural policy, environmental regulations, and the goals of the individual producer or enterprise (see Chapter 1, Figure 1-1). The agricultural sector is not made up of a homogeneous collection of uniform farms managed by producers with similar skills, resources, and goals. Instead, farming enterprises differ widely in the commodities they produce, the quality of their soils, and their topography. Ownership patterns and the labor or financial resources the producer can tap vary just as widely. Also, producers are a diverse set of people who have a variety of goals: profit maximization, minimization of management time, maintenance of a certain life-style, protection of personal independence, desire to obtain a certain social status, and observation of a particular environmental or religious ethic. This variability means there are many different reasons why producers choose to adopt or reject new farming systems (Table 4-1)—no single policy or program will influence all the producers whose behavior those policies seek to change.
The inadequacy of empirical data and predictive models of producer behavior and the diversity of enterprises that make up the agricultural sector make it difficult to pinpoint the precise effect of alternative policies on the behavior of producers. General understanding of the factors that influence producers' decisions, however, can guide the development of national policies to change the way producers manage their farming systems.
Environmental objectives have historically been closely linked with the larger goals of agricultural policy to support and stabilize the prices