Incentives for Sustainable Farming Practices

With approximately half of the continental United States consisting of farmland, farming has huge affects on all aspects of the environment around the country. Dan Charles, We Pay Billions For Greener Farms, So What Does that Buy Us?, (Oct. 13, 2016). How a farmer cultivates the land impacts the surrounding water, air, and wildlife. Id. Farming in a sustainable way may benefit the environment, but unfortunately these practices are not usually inline with a farmer’s economic self-interest. Id.

So, how can a country ensure economic stability of farmers while still protecting the environment? Financial incentives provided by the government for farmers to reduce their environmental impact. Id. They are called “conservation” payments and they equate to about $5 billion in government funding (a quarter of the farm subsidies) a year. Id.

Most people view these incentives as necessary, but not always effective or efficient. Some believe these payments should be directed to produce specific public benefits in priority areas (like limiting agriculture on steep land to reduce erosion and fertilizer runoff), but unfortunately this strategy hasn’t been widely successful. Id. Typically, for an environmentally beneficial practice to be widely used amongst farmers it must also benefit their bottom line. Id.

This week, the Environmental Working Group rolled out a new database dedicated to transparency between the government, farmers, and consumers, allowing anyone to see who is receiving incentives and for what agricultural practice. Id. Hopes are high that the database will aid in making the incentives more effective in promoting sustainable farming practices. Id.