Is It Time For Conservation Payments?

As Congress rewrites farm legislation, many are pushing for a new partnership between farmers and taxpayers. In exchange for conservation payments, farmers would do much more to enhance environmental quality. With increasing public demand for clear air and clean water, there is growing justification for tying federal farm income support to increased conservation, according to a report prepared by Center for Agricultural and Rural Development and Iowa State Economics Department staff. Experience with past conservation programs has shown that farmers are willing to participate if the payments are large relative to the costs of compliance. New, highly funded conservation payment programs for agriculture could achieve both the current income support objective of farm programs as well as environmental objectives as long as programs target environmental benefits rather than income support to low-income producers. Setting aside land is the most costly way of obtaining environmental benefits, according to the report. It is more efficient to encourage productive use of land rather than to retire land. The report, "Conservation Payments: Challenges in Design and Implementation," is available online, or for a print copy, call (515) 294-7519.