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sustainable agriculture, farm policy, farm economy


The efficacies of farming systems in the United States (U.S.) are increasingly being judged by both environmental and economic sustainability criteria. Taxpayers are becoming more insistent that agricultural production systems be compatible with environmental goals; the 1985 Food Security Act and the pending 1990 Federal farm bill place environmental constraints on farming practices as conditions for receiving farm program benefits. Farmers themselves are increasingly concerned about the environmental consequences of particular farming practices which have become "conventional" over the past 30 to 40 years. They are concerned about soil erosion. groundwater contamination by pesticides and fertilizers. and possible human health implications of continued use of some chemical pesticides. At the same time, farmers generally do not want to sacrifice profits in order to meet stricter environmental standards. Thus, the challenge to farmers, researchers. and policy makers is two-fold: (1) to develop farming systems that are sustainable over time both economically for individual farm families and environmentally for society, and (2) to shape public policies which provide economic incentives (or reduce economic disincentives) to farmers to adopt more environmentally sustainable systems. The purpose of this paper is to present recently completed research results on the effects of various public policies on the relative profitability to farmers of "conventional" and "sustainable" systems. Analyses were conducted with case farms representing different agroclimatic conditions in South Dakota. Conventional case farms use commercial chemical fertilizers and pesticides in amounts typical for their respective areas. Sustainable case farms either eliminate or greatly reduce the use of commercial chemical fertilizers and pesticides; they emphasize crop rotations, legumes, tillage, and cover crops as means of maintaining soil fertility, controlling weeds, and preventing soil erosion. In this paper, the sustainable agriculture research program at South Dakota State University (SDSU) is first briefly described. The profitability’s of the sustainable and conventional case farms under baseline conditions are then compared. Following that, the policy options considered in our analyses are described. The results of applying those policy options to five pairs of sustainable and conventional farms are presented next. The paper concludes with a general statement regarding public policies relative to sustainable agriculture.


Department of Economics, South Dakota State University

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