This report addresses the costs and benefits of different land-use patterns on the environment and how sound agricultural management practices may produce tangible environmental benefits. Various categories of land use – urban, agricultural and natural lands – affect water, soil and air quality, along with biodiversity in different and interconnected ways. While the costs of urban land use to the environment are well known, the benefits that agricultural land use may offer to the environment are less well documented. It is the contention of this report that well-managed farmland, using sound agricultural conservation practices, not only will neutralize many of the environmental problems caused in the past, but that positive environmental benefits – either in the form of good externalities or public goods – will be produced as a result. While the environmental costs of agriculture are easier to measure, the benefits produced by well-managed farmland are more difficult to ascertain yet not impossible to approximate. The real difficulty remains in determining how much to fairly reimburse farmers for implementing and maintaining conservation practices that produce ascertained environmental benefits.
The report addresses the costs to the environment of agricultural land use and the environmental and monetary benefits of sound agricultural management practices. These benefits include improving the quality of water, air and soil, carbon sequestration, retaining and promoting biodiversity by working landscapes practices, producing fresh fruits, grains, vegetables, oils low in saturated fats, dairy, lean meat and other highly nutritious foods, raising land values by adopting conservation measures, and farmland amenities – a publicgood that has become increasingly significant and valuable, both to the urban population and to farmers. For effective conservation policy analysis and implementation, we need ways to document the environmental benefits of farmland. The report addresses recent attempts to identify agri-environmental and agri-biodiversity indicators by examining a sample of U.S. and international models that have produced a number of indicators that are relevant to the environmental benefits of farmland. By promoting the use of such environmental indicators, we hope that future policy measures – programs and subsidies – will be informed by a more accurate account of the environmental benefits of well-managed farmland.