Evaluation of ecosystem services provided by multifunctional agriculture in the USA

George Boody and colleagues used a scenario-development exercise to discover that some types of changes in agricultural management can lead to economic benefits as well as improvements in the delivery of multiple ecosystem services.(Boody et al. 2005. Multifunctional agrcitulture in the United States. BioScience 55: 27 – 38.)

The team of 17 members (including farmers, government agency workers, and acadmics from several disciplines) worked with stakeholders in 2 southern Minnesota (USA) watersheds to develop 4 scenarios evaluating the future of agricultural management in the area.

These two watersheds face many of the same issues found in other agricultural regions of the United States: there are fewer farms now than in past decades; farms are growing in size as farmers buy out their neighbors; more land is leased; the diversity of crops is declining; and more land is managed by large companies working on non-contiguous areas, necessitating transport of manure and other items around the region.

The 4 scenarios they developed were (click for maps of landcover in one of the watersheds):

A) continuation of current trends
B) Implementation of BMPs (best management practices)
C) Maximizing diversity and profitability
D) Increased vegetative cover

The team estimated changes in fish populations in each watershed’s streams, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, and carbon sequestration in each watershed under the conditions of each scenario. In one watershed, Scenarios B, C, and D all reduced N loading to the Mississippi River by at least 30% (a goal set by the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Nutrient Task Force). In the other watershed, simply implementing BMPs (Scenario B)was not enough to reach this reduction goal.

In addition, the team estimated the short-term economic effects of each of the 4 scenarios, including net farm income, farm production costs, and commodity and CRP payments. Net farm income was greatest in Scenario C or D, depending on the watershed, despite declines in CRP and commodity payments in those scenarios. The authors also estimated externality cost savings due to reduced sedimentation and flooding.

In their conclusions, the authors state (p. 35):

Our analysis indicates that diversifying agriculture on actively
farmed land could provide environmental, social, and
economic benefits.Citizens would be willing to pay for these

They also point out the importance of social capital and changes in agricultural policy to the ability to achieve the transitions required to enter Scenario B, C, or D.

More detail about this project can be found in the report here, and more information on other projects related to stewardship of farmland, sustainable agriculture and sustainable communities can be found at the web site of the Land Stewardship Project.

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