Gary W. Jackson
University of Wisconsin
Agriculture, whether practiced on small or large farms, is increasingly recognizing that systems management approaches are needed to facilitate decisionmaking that maintains profitability while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. Small farmers, in particular, need to have access to assistance which will aid them in identifying environmental risk on their property and the voluntary actions they can take to reduce those risks. Time constraints and lack of financial flexibility often limit the ability of small farmers to use state-of-the-art technology. Lower-cost options are usually available and it appears that the conservation provisions in the 1996 Farm Bill will provide local flexibility to meet the needs of small farmers.
The 1996 Farm Bill has redefined conservation. That redefinition recognizes the need for total resource management to minimize negative environmental impacts while maintaining profitability. My presentation will identify ways in which this redefinition of conservation may impact small farms. In doing so, I will define small and mid-size farms; show information and educational needs of small farmers; identify how these needs relate to conservation provisions in the 1996 Farm Bill; discuss the opportunity for linking these needs to research and education programs; and comment on the opportunity to influence research and educational support to small farms through input into the reauthorization of the research, education, and extension title of the 1996 Farm Bill.
Defining Small Farms and Determining Their Needs Related to Conservation Practices
The August 30, 1996 Doane's Focus Report defined small farms as having an income of less than $10,000 and midsize farms as having an income between $10,000 and $100,000. For purposes of this presentation, we will use those definitions, although numerous definitions exist for farm size. The Doane's news-letter also characterized the nature of small farms. In general, small farms represent retired farmers, semi-retired farmers or part-timers who have a full-time off-the-farm job. In some situations, these small farms can be viewed as lifestyle farms that are not economically dependent on farming. In nearly all cases, the needs of small farmers are different from those of large farmers. Understanding those needs is the first step in designing effective programs to incorporate conservation considerations into small farmers' farm management decision processes.
The primary need related to small farms is survival. This overall need relates to four areas that must be addressed. These areas include: efficient production, marketing skills, emotional and physical safety, and environmental acceptability. Needs which influence personal and/or economic safety are usually addressed first. As a result, environmental concerns are often overlooked until the other areas of needs are adequately addressed. A way of reducing environmental concerns being overlooked is to integrate them into a total system decision framework for the farm. The Farm Assessment System (Farm*A*Syst) has provided a framework to integrate environmental impacts into the whole farm decision making framework. The conservation provisions of the Farm Bill has redefined conservation to include all activities that may affect environmental quality. The terminology related to this farm planning program has not yet been determined. It may be called a Whole Farm Conservation Plan, One Plan, or a Total Farm Resource Management Plan. But the basic principle remains the same: to assist producers in establishing their farm management goals, both economic and environmental and to design a voluntary framework that will help those goals be obtained.
The Farm Bill recognizes that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is to provide leadership within USDA for resource management. They are responsible for the overall coordination of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) which has combined several conservation programs into a coordinated effort. A total of $200 million has been appropriated for this program. $100 million is for practices that assist livestock producers in addressing environmental concerns and $100 million for other conservation needs. The administrative framework for the EQIP program is still evolving. The availability of technical assistance will be determined by the level of funding provided to NRCS. Mechanisms for providing educational support have not been clearly identified. What is known is that the conservation plan is to be designed around the producer's goals and needs.
State technical committees are being organized to identify conservation priorities and practices needed to address priorities, eligibility criteria for cost sharing, and mechanisms for making the planning process responsive to producer needs. Guidelines for these state technical committees indicate the intent is to develop a flexible program that can be modified to meet the targeted local needs. Membership on these state technical committees will include a wide array of farm organizations, agribusinesses and environmental interest groups. At the county level, farmer committees are also being organized to assist in identifying and prioritizing resource management needs. They will also be responsible for identifying unique practices needed to meet local conditions. This combination of local and state committees will provide significant opportunity for representatives of small farms to become involved in the process of determining the types of support needed to aid them in incorpo-rating conservation factors into their management decision process.
In general, we can conclude that all farmers will be under continued pressure to meet environmental expectations. The new conservation title of the Farm Bill has broadened the conservation planning and management approach to be a total resource management, watershed-based approach. EPA approaches have also broadened to focus on ecosystems within watersheds. They also encourage comm-unity-based environmental programming that is based on active input by local communities to establish environmental priorities. In the end, however, for these approaches to work, they must get down to identifying pollution risk on specific properties. This requires working with landowners to increase their recognition and understanding of how their practices present pollution risks and what they can do through voluntary-actions to reduce pollution risk and prevent problems.
The development of farm resource management plans is the mechanism that is intended to increase awareness and understanding of site specific risks. Well designed, local, applied research and demonstration projects will increase local understanding of why some practices cause problems and how other practices can prevent problems. We need to be objective and educate our farmer clientele on the environmental and economic benefits and drawbacks of practices recommended to address environmental issues. In this process, we can develop and maintain their trust and develop effective partnerships with the private sector. Where real needs exist, involvement of the private sector will increase the availability of the products and services that are necessary for increased voluntary adoption of recommended conservation practices.
Conservation Provisions of the Farm Bill Are Not Complete
Although the technical and cost-sharing, framework of the conservation provisions of the Farm Bill have been laid out and administrative rules are in the process of being developed, the package that is needed to increase effectiveness in dealing with farm audiences is not complete. The research, education and extension elements are missing. The opportunity to identify these needs and seek the support necessary to carry them forward is here now! The questions are: (1) Can research, education and extension needs be clearly stated? (2) Can research, demonstration and extension activities be designed to complement and support resource management objectives of other agencies? (3) Can existing programs such as the Integrated Pest Management Program, Pesticide Impact Assessment Program, Pesticide Applicator Training Program, Water Quality Initiative, Midwest Systems Evaluation Research Program, and Sustainable Agriculture Programs be reorganized into a coordinated network that effectively supports a systems approach to environmental management? (4) Can and should the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) make a national commitment to support research, education, and demonstration needs related to conservation programs? (5) Can experiment station research projects convert research methodologies into applied research, demonstration procedures that assist in developing local demonstrations for purposes of conducting local education programs to address environmental management and pollution prevention needs? (6) Can and should the private sector be more involved so that local delivery capacity can be increased? (7) Will research that documents the limits of existing technology for purposes of both clarifying future research needs and limiting society's expectation as to what can be accomplished by today's technology? (8) Is the role of CSREES in conducting research and extension activities clear? (9) How can existing funds be used more effectively to increase voluntary use of conservation practices?
The development of a framework to identify and address these questions should influence future support that will be authorized in the research education and extension title of the Farm Bill.
This support, in combination with the reorganization of NRCS as the lead USDA agency for resource management, can facilitate a sound interagency team effort which can listen closely to farmer needs and be responsive to those needs through cooperative efforts. This approach will allow a broad national framework to receive input from the local level. It can produce guidelines that will allow recommended conservation practices to be tailored to meet local needs thus increasing the overall effectiveness of program delivery. The opportunity to influence future support for research education and extension is here now. The framework within which conservation needs are being defined is already underway. The challenge is linking them together.
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