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9 New Cropland in the 1982 NRI: Implications for Resource Policy Clayton Al Ogg Comparing the 1982 National Resources Inventory (NRI) with the smaller inventory conducted 5 years earlier shows no startling land use or management changes. Reduced tillage increased, as expected, while a 2.7 percent annual rate of increase in cropland in the mid-1970s was reduced by the pressure of today's lower prices to about 1 percent. Since much knowledge gained from the 1977 NRI was simply reconfirmed in 1982, the more significant insights pertain to new cropland conversions discovered through the recent NRI. This new cropland exemplifies erodibility and other character- istics of soils at the margin of production. Several U.S. commodity and trade policies influence conversion of these erodible soils and soils with other problems identified in the NRI. For example, commodity price support programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) contain an evolving mixture of subsidies, which promote crop production and exports, and land retirement programs, which support prices by reducing crop acreage. Conversion of land to crop uses is affected by these policy choices, as well as by proposed sodbuster and conservation reserve legislation designed to reduce any program-related stimulus to misuse erodible land. The large commodity program outlays relative to conserva- tion cost sharing have focused public attention on farm policy options that affect land conversions. The 1982 NRI reports both the current use of fields and that of the preceding 3 years. It indicates that the acres cropped in 1982 but not earlier contain a far larger proportion of erodible land than the acres already in production. This paper looks at the new acreage for each major program crop and analyzes erodibility and other physical soil problems, citing earlier estimates of 253
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254 yields and economic factors affecting their use. NRI data are used to consider relationships between soil erosion and current price supports. The paper also demonstrates the economic importance of erodible land at the margin of production and improves on earlier estimates of the erosion-related costs of using this land. It ends with an analysis of policies on land conversions and suggestions on new approaches to policy research using this new and powerful information. EMERGENCE OF ERODIBLE LAND USE AS A FARM POLICY ISSUE Conservation has had a role in farm programs for several decades, although not a sharply defined one. Terms like "conservation reserve," "soil bank," and "conservation use acres" suggested some conservation purpose for acreage idled by various price support programs. Yet, until a USDA study in 1984 (USDA, 1984), it was apparently assumed either that farmers would select erodible land for their program acres or that it did not matter enough to be an issue. Cost-sharing programs for applying conservation practices similarly treated erosion as if it were ubiquitous (USDA, 1980). The 1977 NRI first demonstrated the concentration of erosion problems on a small portion of the nation's cropland. Heimlich and Bills (1984) found only 23 percent of cropland needing additional treatment to reduce sheet and rill erosion. Meanwhile, about a third of the cropland was so disinclined toward sheet and rill erosion as to never need treatment. According to Heimlich and Bills (1984), 8 percent of cropland is so highly erodible that it cannot be continuously cropped without experiencing erosion rates in excess of the 5 tons/acre/year considered allowable. The 1982 NRI gives little reason to alter these figures. Broad public concern about erosion-related productivity losses and water quality damage evolved into concern focused especially on the small portion of the land that would experience high erosion rates (USDA, 1980). In addition, a dramatic increase in farm exports and in cropland in the 1970s drew attention to erodible land being converted to crop uses. One study suggested that much of the land suited for conversion was going to be more erodible than existing cropland (Cory and Timmons, 1982). The 1982 NRI can now more authoritatively distinguish erosion and other soil problems on land that is actually being planted in crops in the United States.
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25S POLICIES AFFECTING ERODIBLE AND MARGINAL LAND CONVERS ION TO CROP USES Farm policies inevitably influence land conversion to crop uses because they subsidize production and support prices. Farmers Home Administration loans and disaster relief have constituted the major direct subsidies to agriculture. Price supports, meanwhile, consist of required acreage set-asides, paid crop diversions, and grain storage programs. Since price support programs ultimately rely on acreage reductions to diminish supply and raise prices, their initial impact is to reduce the use of some land that is currently used to raise program crops. As prices go up, however, new land is brought into production, a phenomenon referred to as "slippage." The net program effect in the short run is a reduction of erosion on the idled acres, minus any change from erosion on land brought into cultivation. Concern that programs may be having a negative overall effect on soil erosion resulted in legislative initiatives to deny program benefits to farmers plowing new fragile or highly erodible soils. Other programs, including a conservation reserve that was tested in the 1984 program, are meant to attract more erodible land into the acreage reduction programs. These worries about the net erosion effects of farm programs underscore the need for greater knowledge about changes in land use in response to program subsidies. CROPS AND SOIL GROUPINGS IN THE ANALYSIS Since the 1982 NRI identifies land uses in the 3 years before the sample points were visited, land newly con- verted to crop uses is easily identified. (The 1982 points that had been sampled in 1977 could also be examined, but definitional changes make that difficult. Also, 1982 is a much larger sample.) There were 10.6 million newly cropped acres in the sample years (mainly 1981 and 1982), mostly in corn, wheat, and soybeans; over 70 percent of these acres were plowed in the previous 2 years as well. To analyze this new cropland, the acreage was placed in six land groups used in a recent study of acreage reduction programs (Ogg et al., 1984). The land groups were selected to reflect the current policy emphasis on the use of marginal (less productive)
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256 TABLE 1 Land Groups and Yields Land Capability Class System (LCCS)a or Group ( Bushels/Acre ) Average Land Corn Yield Eros ion Des ignation 1 I 2 IIw, IIs, IIc, IIIw, IIIc, IVw IVs, IVc, and V 3 IIe, IIIe, and IVe; RKLS under 50b 4 IIe and IIIe; RKLS over 50 5 IVe; RKLS over 50 6 VI, VI I, and VI I I We ighted averag e 109 67 97 85 79 37 102 aUnder the LCCS designations, Roman numerals I-VIII designate severity of the problem for crop uses; sub- scripts w, s, c, and e indicate whether the problem is due to wetness, stoniness, climate, or erodibility. bAn RKLS of 50 implies an erosion rate of about 15 tons/acre/year under average management. SOURCE: Ogg et al. (1984). and highly erodible land. Highly erodible land has not been much affected by conservation programs because of the high cost of adequate treatment. Yet, the current cross-compliance and sodbuster regulatory options would tend to affect this highly erodible land more than land with moderate erosion problems. Soils were grouped by using erosion potential data from the NRI as well as the Land Capability Class System (LCCS) (see Table 1). Soils with few limitations for crop use are in group 1, the most productive land. LCCS data are especially useful for identifying wetness (subclass w), stoniness (s), and climatic limitations (c) for crop uses; soils with these problems were placed in group 2. Productive soils with moderate erosion problems were in group 3, while groups 4 and 5 contain most (71 percent) of the land Heimlich and Bills (1984) described
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257 as so highly erodible as to be difficult to treat adequately if in crops other than hay. Group 6 includes a small area of unproductive soils identified by the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) as unsuitable for crop uses, which actually accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. crop production other than hay. These six land groups provide an excellent basis for analyzing land conversion to cropland: Earlier estimates of average yields and other economic information that influence land conversion decisions can be drawn on, and four of the groups contain either erodible or lower- yielding soils that are to be expected at the margin of production. The analysis of acreage reduction programs found that the erodible groups 4 and 5 were not particularly favored by farmers interested in placing their land in current land retirement programs (Ogg et al., 1984). A USDA study (1984) of the 1983 program supported the conclusion that land in acreage reductions is fairly representive of land in crops. However, as mentioned earlier, the land converted to crop use in response to price supports and subsidies was expected to be far more erodible than that idled by programs. THE NEW CROPLAND As noted earlier, only 8 percent of U.S. cropland was highly erodible in 1977. However, far more than 8 percent of the new cropland in 1982 in all major crops fell in this category of high erodibility. For example, looking at highly erodible land across all land groups in the 1982 NRI, 30 percent of new corn acres were highly erodible, with 23 percent in relatively productive groups 4 and 5 in Table 2. Average erosion rates for all new cropland were about 1.4 times the national average rate for cropland. About another 15 percent of cropland in 1977 needed treatment to reduce erosion, but it was classified as fully treatable with conservation practices (Heimlich and Bills, 1984). For all the newly cropped acres in 1982, only 12 percent was in this category of needing treatment, mainly (67 percent) in group 3. The highly erodible groups 4 and 5 thus represent a relatively large portion of the erosion on new cropland. That the highly erosive land coming into production is in relatively productive groups 4 and 5 emphasizes the
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259 importance of protecting this land when it is not par- ticularly needed to meet food and fiber demands. Research is still measuring the economic significance of both onsite and offsite damage from highly erodible versus less erodible soils, but the highly erodible soils do account for 46 million tons--70 percent--of the new cropland's sheet and rill erosion. This is nearly twice the proportion of erosion from all cropland that is Provided by highly erodible land. If market conditions improve, and if the improvement causes sodbusting to increase, highly erodible land groups can be expected to be the source of an increasing share of the sediment entering lakes and streams. NEW ACRES OF PROGRAM CROPS New erosion problems are particularly evident for the crops most affected by feedgrain programs. About 2.5 times more of the recently converted crop acres than of all crops in 1977 were highly erodible, but for new corn and soybean acres the equivalent figure was 3.8. Because new corn and soybean acres contain so much erodible land, program decisions for feedgrains could perhaps influence use of substantial acreages of erodible land. Soils with other physical limitations, such as wetness, figure even more heavily in the land conversion process. The less-productive group 2 accounts for 47 percent of the new soybean land (see Table 2). Still, soils with severe erosion problems expand their share of corn and soybean crop acreage more than other problem soils do. Since the erosion potential data do not include poten- tial for wind erosion, the erodible land groups in these tables account for less of the erodible wheat acres than was the case for other crops. Even with wind erosion, wheat is one of the crops least susceptible to erosion. A given wheat price support outlay is, therefore, less likely than a feedgrain program to damage nonrenewable resources, even though much of the early support for sodbusting legislation originated in wheat states. Similarly, groups 4 and 5, with high potential for sheet and rill erosion, are hardly relevant in evaluating program impacts on cotton production because cotton suffers mainly from wind erosion. It is worth noting, however, that 22 percent of new cotton is grown on land group 6. The 22 tons/acre/year combined water and wind erosion rates suggest erosion damage is occurring on the
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260 TABLE 3 Distribution of New Cropland and of Least Profitable Cropland (25 Million Acres) by Land Group Least Profitable Land GroupNew CroplandaCroplandb 1 3 3 23437 33537 41315 565 6 9 a"New" acres are those in crops in 1982 that were not in crop production in 1979. bSee Webb et al. (1984) SOURCE: 1982 NRI. . new cotton acres. An earlier study (Ogg r 1985) found, in fact r that disaster programs were an incentive to bring 2 million new acres of cotton into the Dust Bowl region during the 1970s. PRICE SUPPORTS AND PROBLEMS WITH THE NEW CROPLAND Yet erosion is not the only problem created by land conversions. Table 1 shows a version of the Iowa State Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) model's estimates of yields on each land group. Along with being erodible, the land groups with the lowest yields in Table 1 account for much of the new cropland. In fact, the distribution of cropland among the six groups parallels the distribution of the least profitable land currently in production (see Table 3), identified in a study using a version of the CARD model (Ogg et. al, 1984). Groups 2 and 6 account for considerably more of newly cropped acreage than of current acreage, while the productive land group 1 accounts for very few of the new cropped acres. Price support statutes aim to prevent new plowing during crop surpluses because it adds to surpluses and to
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262 the cost of the supports. Erosion and low profitability greatly add to these social costs of land conversions, as additions to crop surpluses mainly come from either erodible or less profitable land. Short-Term Effects of Farm Subsidies on Land Conversions and Soil Erosion Program rules limiting production to base averages thus discourage both new plowing and soil erosion in the short term. These rules also use various subsidies to persuade farmers to place land in set-asides and crop diversions, reducing erosion on the idled acres. However, the Conservation Use Acres data indicate these programs in 1983 reduced erosion just 0.9 tons/acre/year on wheat acres, 3.7 tons/acre/year on feedgrain acres, and 1.8 tons/acre/year for all crops. Many idle acres were not very erodible or if they were erodible, adequate cover was not established. To add to the erosion and surplus problems, programs that raise prices cause some land to be moved into crops from hay or pasture even on farms not participating in the program. New corn acres eroded at 9.4 tons/acre/year (see Table 4), which is 1.23 times the 1977 rate for all corn acres. These figures shed some light on the erosion due to program-induced land use changes. A study by Ericksen and Collins (1985) found that every 10 acres idled by farm programs reduced crop production only 5 or 6 acres. The 1983 acreage reduction program idled 31.7 million corn acres from the base acreage and 29.3 million wheat acres, but the reduction in actual cropped acres was only 21.3 million and 20.0 million acres, respectively. Reductions in summer fallow _ and in soybean acreages make up much of the difference. Yet, among the 19.7 million acres that shifted into corn and wheat in 1983 were 1.0 million acres that moved out of hay production and probably a larger area that shifted from pasture, although that figure may never be known with precision. The net effect of any program in the short run must include any new erosion that results on the acres converted to crops. According to the new-cropland data, the land shifted from pasture erodes at about 8.3 tons/acre/year (see Table 4) in crops, versus about 1 ton/acre/year when it was in pasture. Assuming the converted hayland has erosion characteristics similar to the new cropland, hay alone would offset 7.3 million tons of erosion of the roughly 102-million-ton program savings for these two crops in 1983.
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263 Including pasture conversions would raise the 7.3 million near-term estimate for new erosion due to program-related land conversions that year. Although lack of reliable data on decreases in pastureland in 1983 makes it difficult to estimate accurately all the short-term erosion and production impacts of the large 1983 acreage reduction, unpublished estimates suggest modest increases in the rate of pastureland conversion that year. Long-Term Effects of Farm Programs Base acreages cannot greatly limit new plowing if programs are repeated for several years. Much of the 10.6 million new cropped acres from 1979 to 1982 is therefore somewhat influenced by price supports. Farmers plow up new land partly in response to supported prices or to expand their base acreages, which are the basis for receiving program benefits. Wheat bases, alone, expanded from 45 million acres in 1970 to 91 million acres in 1984 (Ericksen and Collins, 1985). However, price fluctuations, pressure from banks, and land speculation are also associated with these land conversions (Huszar and Young, 1984). Research has yet to determine how much of the new cropland is plowed to reap program-related benefits versus other reasons. Smaller program changes, such as the 13 million wheat and feedgrain acres set aside in 1979 and the 9.1 million acres set aside in 1982, do not appear to disrupt the pace of conversion from pasture to cropland. For example, new cropland in wheat and other crops occurred at almost equal increments each year for which data are available. Programs stabilizing or raising farm prices and income obviously influence the rate of land conversion in the long run much more than during the year a program feature is introduced. Productivity Damage on Land at the Margin of Production A paper by Doering et al. (1983) for the first time estimated the erosion damage from production of program crops and attempted to relate that damage to farm sub- sidies. Their study conservatively estimated that an acre-inch of soil is worth about $60 and that pro
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264 ductivity losses due to erosion cost 2¢/bushel of wheat and 3/bushel of corn. They also noted that new cropland, producing for exports, is surely far more erodible and might suffer several times this rate of damage. Work is being done to improve these average damage estimates as well as to extend this type of analysis by determining how many additional acres are farmed in response to program subsidies. In the meantime, the marginal erosion damage on new cropland can be suggested much more accurately. Since erosion rates on the corn acres at the margin of production are 1.23 times the rates on all corn acres, the per bushel cost estimate of 3¢ can be raised to 3.7/bushel. And the cost estimate for erosion on new wheat acres becomes 2.5¢/bushel. However, a much larger share of the new cropland erosion comes from highly erodible soils. Thus, there is a need both to improve average damage estimates and to determine separate damage estimates for more erodible soils, which may lose more per ton than soils that are less erodible. Analyzing yield losses from erosion on each of the six land groups described here, for example, would shed light on the economic significance of policy options affecting land conversions. The new NRI data suggest several areas to focus new research and improve on past efforts. Water Quality Damage from Land Conversions Although 70 percent of the erosion from new crop acres occurred on highly erodible land, according to 1982 NRI data, this land was dispersed across nearly all the major producing regions, which are listed in Table 5. Farm policy choices affecting conversions of erodible land are therefore of national interest from a water quality standpoint. Those deciding farm policy can only consider water damage from sediment and related nutrients in the most aggregate terms. Nonetheless, the concentration of sediment and nutrient losses on highly erodible land proved very important to eutrophication problems in a Pennsylvania reservoir (Ogg et al., 1983). And a recent study (Ogg and Pionke, 1986) finds that these Pennsylvania results are due to phosphorus adsorption relationships that have wide applicability. Phosphorus losses are mainly adsorbed to sediment
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265 TABLE 5 New Cropland Acreage Between 1979 and 1982, By Producing Region . _ . Producing Region Acres (Millions)a Appalachian Corn Belt Delta Lake Mountain Northeast Northern Plains Pacific Southeast Southern Plains Total 1.205 2.169 0.992 0.614 1.381 0.382 1.548 0.699 0.908 1.178 11.076 aIncludes some land that shifted in and sub- sequently out of crop uses. SOURCE: 1982 NRI. particles in the case of the highly erodible fields, while phosphorus moves off less erodible fields in its dissolved form. These dissolved phosphorus losses from less erodible soils are not much affected as acres are converted to crops. In addition, pasture or forest uses lower the soil's fertility status. The 70 percent figure for sediment originating from the highly erosive new cropland acres considerably understates, then, the share of phosphorus damage associated with conversions of highly erodible land. PREVENTING SODBUSTING DURING PRICE SUPPORTS Since land conversion appears to be a long-term investment decision, provisions that prevent farmers from expanding crop acreages during a particular price support year may not address this process. Meanwhile, the high proportion of the new cropland in the erodible and relatively productive land groups 4 and 5 suggests that
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266 sodbuster legislation that includes productive land would help prevent resource problems and new production during price suppor t programs . The immediate social costs of preventing new production through sanctions on sodbusting are apparently lower than idling acres already in production. As Table 3 indicates, the new cropland is among the least productive now in production, containing virtually no acreage in the land group having the highest yields and substantial acreage in groups with yields one-third to two-thirds below aver- age. The average corn yield on new cropland (estimated by weighting acres in Table 4 by the yields in Table 1) is only 78 bushels--about 23 percent below the average on all cropland. Also, much of the new cropland came from regions like the Southeast (see Table 5), where yields in each land group are below the national average yield for that group. Thus, 23 percent is a conservative estimate of this yield difference. The plowing costs and other expenses associated with plowing less productive new land therefore adds to the social cost of farm programs to the extent that production shifts from idled program acres to the new cropland acres. According to Watts et al. (1983) it costs at least $134/acre to convert rangeland to crops in Montana. Sodbusting costs less than that in some states, but it represents a substantial expenditure. Erosion, water quality damage, low profitability, plowing costs, and additions to crop surpluses all point to the importance of rules that reduce incentives for sodbusting. OTHER OPTIONS THAT REDUCE CONVERS ION OF MARGINAL OR ERODIBLE SOILS TO CROP USES In the Appalachian, Delta, Northeast, and Southeast reunions, commodity program participation is lower than in the areas that produce wheat and feedgrains. However, credit subsidies are concentrated in the Southeast, so credit policy can be used to discourage conversions of erodible land in these regions (Ogg, 1985). In the rest of the United States, commodity program benefits carry much more weight. Although sodbuster legislation and conservation reserves affect these land conversions most directly, a bid system used to retire land in 1983 is also relevant. The bid system primarily reduces the farm program outlays by encouraging rental bids from farmers based on the earnings of each piece of land. Bidding would thus
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267 reduce the windfalls to owners of less profitable, recently converted cropland (see Table 3). These windfalls are often very large when acreage reduction programs include 50 to 90 percent of western wheat farmers, as they presently do. Deficiency payments and crop diversion payments now offer all program participants for each bushel of their production capacity the amount that the more Profitable farmers in the Country are earning. Those who produce at tow or negative profits capture the largest windfall. Although a number of factors listed here contribute to the land conversions (Huszar and Young, 1984), one financial incentive for farmers, bankers, and speculators is ultimately to add to the current or future owner's base acreages and capture the windfall described above. The bid system reduces this windfall, encouraging each farmer to idle land for what it is worth. Short of freezing the base acreage, there may be no more effective way to reduce the incentive to expand base acreages. Research needs, then, to specifically address program incentives, such as the bid system, to prevent base acreages from expanding onto less productive soils. The NRI and some of the modeling tools discussed in this volume will play a role. Such analyses are as relevant to commodity policy as they are to resource concerns. The 1982 set-aside was barely able to offset land conversions of the previous 3 years. Fundamental research regarding onsite and offsite erosion damage on new cropland is also needed, as others have indicated. (See papers by Benbrook et al., 1984; Christensen, this volume; and Walker and Young, this volume.) CONCLUS IONS Land at the margin of production, recently converted to crop uses, experiences lower yields and more erosion than land currently in crops. Much of the new cropland is from the most erodible land groups. Although it also has lower yields on the average, land with wetness and other problems account for the lowest yields, as the erodible land among the new acres comes from fairly productive land groups. When crop surpluses exist, farm programs attempt to discourage participants from planting new acres in the program crops because the additional cropland undermines the ability to control surpluses. The analysis in this
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268 paper suggests that the new plowing, which takes place partly in response to price supports, has the additional undesirable effect of moving the country toward a less efficient agriculture and adding to the nation's water pollution problems. The immediate economic inefficiencies of plowing new cropland include conversion costs and a shift toward less productive land than that currently in use. This short- term social cost is in addition to erosion damage, which exceeds not only similar damages on land currently in production but also erosion on acres idled by farm programs (USDA, 1984). These findings suggest that land conversions due to farm policy choices need further study. The erosion and yield analysis of land conversion needs to be expanded along the lines of a recently completed analysis of acreage reduction programs. For specific sodbuster provisions or other policy choices affecting one or more major crops, the physical and economic information is now available to anticipate yield, costs, and erosion impacts for 105 local producing areas in the United States. REFERENCES Benbrook, C. A., P. Crosson, and C. W. Ogg. 1984. Resource dimensions of agricultural policy. Proc. Agricultural and Food Policy Conference, Berkeley, Calif. Berkeley: Giannini Foundation. Cory, D., and J. F. Timmons. 1982. Responsiveness of soil erosion losses in the Corn Belt to increased demands for agricultural products. J. Soil Water Conserv. 33:221-226. Doering, O., A. Schmitz, and J. Miranowski. 1983. Farm costs and exports. Pp. 117-127 in Increasing Understanding of Public Problems and Policies. Oak Brook, Ill.: The Farm Foundation. Erickson, M. H., and K. Collins. 1985. Effectiveness of acreage reduction programs. Pp. 166-185 in Agriculture-Food Policy Review, No. 530. Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service. Heimlich, R. E., and N. L. Bills. 1984. An improved soil erosion classification for conservation policy. J. Soil Water Conserv. 39:261-266. Huang, W., B. English, S. Webb, and C. Ogg. 1984. A national linear programming model and data base for analysis of soil erosion. Unpublished. Huszar, P. C., and J. E. Young. 1984. Why the Great Colorado Plowout? J. Soil Water Conserv. 39: 232-23 4 . Colorado Plowout? J. Soil Water Conserv. 39:232-234.
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269 Ogg, C. W. 1985. Cross-compliance and fragile croplands. In Farm Level Impacts of Adopting Cross-Compliance Programs: Policy Implications. Proc. American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. Columbia: Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri. Ogg, C. W., and H. B. Pionke. 1986. Water quality and farm policy initiatives. J. Soil Water Conserv. March-April 1986. In press. Ogg, C. W., H. B. Pionke, and R. E. Heimlich. 1983. A linear programing economic analysis of lake quality improvement using phosphorus buffer curves. Water Resour. Res. 19:21-31. Ogg, C. W., S. Webb, and W. Huang. 1984. Economic analysis of acreage reduction alternatives including a soil conservation reserve and competitive bids. J. Soil Water Conserv. 39:379-383. USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture). 1980. National Summary Evaluation of the Agricultural Conservation Program: Phase I. Washington, D.C.: USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture). 1984. Conservation Use Acres Study. Washington, D.C.: USDA. Webb, S., C. W. Ogg, and W. Huang. 1984. Economic analysis of acreage reduction strategies. Paper presented at the American Agricultural Economics Association Meeting, Ithaca, N.Y., August 6, 1984. Watts, M. J., L. D. Bender, and J. B. Johnson. 1983. Economic incentives for converting rangeland to cropland. Bull. 1302. Boseman: Cooperative Extension Service, Montana State University. Discussion Wesley D. Seitz Ogg's paper focuses attention on the quality of the land being added to the production base compared with the quality of that already in crops. Quality is measured in terms of productivity and susceptibility to erosion. Evidence suggests that it may be appropriate to develop policy initiatives to control, or at least influence, land conversion decisions because significant acreages of less productive and more erosion-prone land are being brought into production.
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270 An attempt to develop federal "sodbuster" legislation is an indication that the policy process is already sensitive to one manifestation of this problem. As Ogg indicates, the problem is more pervasive; therefore, additional legislative initiatives might be beneficial over time. A fine tuning of this analysis would be helpful, although it is not clear whether the data are available in the NRI to do this. The average productivity of land being added is lower and the average erosion rate is higher than that of land in the productive base. However, this is not adequate to suggest that a policy of pro- hibiting all land conversion should be adopted. It is reasonable to expect that some land coming into produc- tion has higher productivity and lower erosion rates than some land in the base. If the objective is to improve the quality of land in production, the thrust of policy development should be to slow or stop the conversion of poor, erodible land to row-crop uses, while allowing land with low erodible potential to move into the production base. Policies that would reduce the intensity of production on erodible land currently in the production base would also be consistent with this objective. A bid system for taking land out of production in any given year has substantial appeal, although there may be regional equity consequences that would make it difficult to implement. It is possible that in some areas nearly all land would be bid out of production, with obvious adverse consequences for input and processing companies. unaffected. Other areas would be A closely related alternative, purchasing easements for crop production rights on erodible land, has been previously mentioned. In this case, the operator may use the erodible land to produce crops that do not require annual tillage. In this sense, it is equivalent to purchasing mineral rights. Several aspects of this policy are worthy of mention. First, by precluding intensive cropping options, easement purchase would to some degree address the current problems of excessive production. Second, it would be possible to allow land to return to production. Third, because the most erodible land is often also the least productive and the least profitable, it should be possible to attract large acreages of land out of production at relatively low cost per acre. This is not always the case, however, and different policy approaches would be necessary in those areas.
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271 Given world economic conditions, it seems that in the intermediate term, deflated crop prices will drift downward or hold constant. This trend is suggested by the current emphasis in the policymaking arena on moving toward a free market, a foreign trade orientation in establishing crop prices. Some land may therefore be taken out of production by operators for the obverse of the reasons suggested by Ogg that it be brought into production. In the current political climate, it is not reasonable to expect increased funds for conservation programs in the next fiscal year. When policy formulators make the difficult decisions concerning the expenditure of limited dollars, they are going to respond to the current farm financial crisis. It is real. Many farmers will be or are going bankrupt, and they are going to attract the politicians' attention. Actions designed to address this problem, either in the short term or the long term, are likely to take priority over soil erosion problems in the development of the 1985 farm bill. However, over the longer run, the funding for erosion control may receive a higher orioritv. _ , , _ _ ~ It is reasonable to expect that offsite damages from erosion, such as sedimentation, are going to substantially overshadow the productivity damages associated with erosion over the next 5 to 10 years. Sedimentation of reservoirs, drainage ditches, and harbors is going to be a bigger problem than the onsite damages used in determining T values, the ubiquitous soil loss tolerance limits. It may be worthwhile to begin now to develop a tolerance limit based on the offsite damages associated with erosion, perhaps designated I. (The wave-like shape is an appropriate symbolism.) If water quality-based soil loss limits, I, were established, in many cases they would be more restrictive than the productivity-based limits, T. If the ~ limits are to be implemented, it will be incumbent on the public sector to do so. It seems that tolerance limits were set a number of years ago, based upon general impressions of erosion rates appropriate to allow sustained productivity. Research now under way may allow the development of more accurate assessments of a tolerance limit reflecting the impacts of productivity damages. Refining such a set of erosion limits or targets would be extremely helpful in the development of more robust models at the farm, watershed, state, and national levels. These models
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272 would facilitate the analysis of policy alternatives that might provide the means of developing significantly more efficient, production-oriented policy responses. Discussion Marion Clawson Ogg's paper raises four questions about land that has recently gone--or will go--into production. First, why was this land not cropped in 1979? Was it a concern over erodibility, or was it something else? What was the circumstance that led the farmer not to crop it at that time? This is one place where researchers might look for factors other than erosion. Second, why was this land brought into cultivation in these 3 years? ~ ~ The paper implies--rightly, no doubt--that government programs had something to do with it. But on the other hand, just a very few years earlier, farmers were enjoying some of the most favorable crop prices ever. Why were these particular acres not plowed up in the early 1970s instead of the late 1970s? One answer might be that the farmers have more confidence in their political power to get government subsidies than they have faith in the competitive market to provide them with favorable prices. Third, is there a lot of additional land not now in crops that is near the margin of development? More explicitly, what are the projections of the rate at which additional land will come into development over the next few years or longer? As pointed out, crop acreage reduc- tion programs have nearly offset new land development. In other words, U.S. farmers have been running hard to stay in the same place; it seems they are going to have to continue to run hard to stay in the same place. Lastly, what changes in farm organization and farm management are implicit in these recent land developments? It is assumed that all the land developed between 1979 and 1982 was already on farms, and must have precipitated shifts in farm organization and farm management. These questions, although primarily economic ones, might have considerable implications for soil erosion in the future. There has been a shift away from livestock and toward crops. Will there be a shift back?
Representative terms from entire chapter: