The Task Force reached consensus on nine recommendations.
These recommendations are designed to achieve the goals that the Task
Force outlined for a sustainable U.S. agriculture. Thus the first five
recommendations are aimed at achieving environmentally sound and
economically viable agricultural production; the sixth recommendation at
revitalizing rural farming communities; the seventh recommendation at
producing a safe and high-quality food supply; the eighth recommendation
at encouraging research on integrating productivity, profitability, and
environmental stewardship into the U.S. agricultural system; and the
ninth recommendation at achieving international harmonization of
intellectual property rights. The recommendations do not address all
aspects of the stated goals; they are, however, bold first steps in
accomplishing these goals.
Each recommendation is followed by a brief discussion of the concerns
that inspired it and by yardsticks for measuring progress in meeting a
particular goal. These indicators are not intended to be mandates for
specific actions or policies.
Management of agricultural activities to protect air, soil, and
water quality, and to conserve wildlife habitat and biodiversity, thereby
increasing agriculture's long-term productivity and profitability, as
well as enhancing human health and well-being.
|POLICY RECOMMENDATION 1|
|Integrate pollution prevention and natural
resource conservation into agricultural production
Harmonize the pollution prevention and natural resource conservation
policies of various federal, state, and local agencies to minimize
conflicts among the policies that could undermine environmental
protection. Link technical and financial assistance to farmers and
ranchers to their voluntary implementation of farm- and ranch-specific
plans for integrating pollution prevention and natural resource
conservation into agricultural production. Renew and refine land
retirement program to improve their cost-effectiveness, increase their
conservation of natural resources, and enhance their ability to prevent
agriculturally related pollution.|
Of the 1.9 billion acres of U.S. land, excluding Alaska, approximately
907 million acres are croplands, pastures, or rangelands. The management of these agricultural
lands can affect the quality of ecosystems and the condition of natural
resources over a significant portion of the U.S. land base. For this
reason, farmers and ranchers should be encouraged to control sediment
carried in runoff from farms and ranches, use environmentally sound
pest and nutrient management techniques, reduce consumption of
nonrenewable energy, and take other actions that would preserve the
health of ecosystems and conserve natural resources.
Because some federal, state, and local policies and programs relating to
agriculture conflict with one another, they may actually undermine
efforts to attain national and local environmental objectives and
sustainable development goals, as well as inefficiently use public
resources. To eliminate this conflict, all levels of government should
review these policies and programs and work together to coordinate them.
In doing so, they should invite nongovernmental organizations, such as
university research institutions and agribusinesses, to help identify
policies that potentially hinder farmers and ranchers from protecting
natural resources and preventing pollution. Successful collaboration
will depend on the forging of strong partnerships among the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Axmy Corps of Engineers,
state agriculture and environmental protection agencies, farm groups,
universities, agribusinesses, producers' organizations, and other entities.
The USDA, in particular, should take several actions to promote
environmentally sound agricultural practices. In addition to assessing
whether its policies encourage sustainable agriculture and revising or
eliminating those policies that do not, it should direct additional
technical and financial resources to meeting natural resource and
environmental protection goals, strengthen its soil and wetlands
conservation efforts, and link participation in its farm programs to
farmers' voluntary implementation of integrated farming systems
(that is, systems that integrate pollution prevention and natural
resource conservation into agricultural production). USDA also should
develop projects to demonstrate integrated farming systems on both small-
and large-scale farms and direct its research efforts toward promoting
environmental protection and conservation of natural resources.
The government has an important role to play in resource conservation
efforts relating to land retirement programs, through which agricultural
lands are managed for envirorunental benefits by contracts or purchase
of easements--with federal, state, or local funds, or some combination
of these funds. These programs generate economic and environmental
benefits for farmers and society as a whole. The economic benefits
include reducing crop surpluses and federal budgetary outlays for crop
subsidies. The environmental benefits--which derive from the restoration
of wetlands and grasslands--include increased recreational opportunities,
improved water quality and carbon sequestration, and the provision of
habitat for wild plant and animal species. The Conservation Reserve
Program, an existing land retirement program with enrollment at 36.4
million acres, has been credited with generating approximately $8.6
billion in wildlife-related benefits alone.
In the past, federal and state governments have designed many resource
conservation programs from the top down, with inadequate local
involvement. As a result, community priorities often are not heard or
understood. To take these priorities into account in the implementation
of conservation programs, the USDA has established state technical
committees. These committees--which include federal, state, and local
agency representatives--provide an opportunity for stakeholders to
establish environmental protection and natural resource conservation
goals and criteria for meeting them, as well as an opportunity to
develop guidelines for target cost-share payments. The USDA should
encourage local environmental, consumer, agricultural, and other groups
to contribute input to state committees' implementation of
conservation and the environmental programs.
The Task Force identified the following indicators of progress toward
integrating natural resource conservation and pollution prevention into
- Conflicts in government policies relating to sustainable agriculture are
resolved, and policies that discourage sustainable agriculture are
revised or eliminated by the year 2005.
- By the year 2000, government agencies (particularly the USDA)
implement programs to encourage the voluntary implementation of plans for
integrating natural resource conservation and pollution prevention into
farm and ranch operations.
- The interests of a broad range of stakeholders are represented on state
- Violations of drinking water, surface water, and soil quality
standards by agricultural practices decrease.
- Land retirement programs target environmentally sensitive,
marginal croplands--including riparian corridors and wetlands--so that
these lands can be set aside or managed primarily to preserve their
|POLICY RECOMMENDATION 2|
|Increase the flexibility for participants
in commodity programs to respond to market signals and adopt
environmentally sound production practices and systems, thereby
increasing profitability and enhancing environmental quality.
||Increase the flexibility for farmers who
participate in commodity programs to make their own production decisions
in response to market signals so that they can implement profitable
production practices and systems that conserve natural resources,
enhance environmental quality, and optimize resource use.|
Commodity programs--through which the federal government supports prices
for some crops--can distort market signals and prevent farmers from
making the most efficient use of agricultural inputs and the natural
resource base. As a result, the programs impose economic costs on
farmers and environmental costs on the rest of the American public.
One restriction of commodities programs illustrates how these costs
arise. "Base acreage" requirements, which specify the minimum number of
acres that must be planted in one of the price-supported crops, encourage
intensive monoculture. Therefore, the requirements discourage
farmers from diversifying their crops in response to market demand and
from optimizing their use of resources, which would promote
If commodity programs gave participants greater flexibility in their
production decisions, farmers would be better able to manage their crops
in ways that increase both profitability and environmental protection.
Past experience indicates that farmers will take advantage of
opportunities to do so. In 1990, Congress passed legislation that
allowed farmers who had signed up for a particular commodity program--for
example, the wheat program--to plant some of their land in a crop other
than that specified by the program. In response, farmers reduced the
number of acres under monoculture and diversified their crops. By 1994,
approximately 42 percent of the land on which farmers were allowed to
grow whatever they chose was planted in crops other than those specified
by the commodity program in which the farmers were enrolled.
Congress should continue to enhance the flexibility of commodity programs.
The Task Force identified the following indicators of progress toward
increased flexibility in commodities programs:
- Congress continues to legislate reform of commodities programs to give
farmers flexibility to manage their lands in ways that will increase
both profitability and environmental protection.
- Farmers diversify production and optimize their use of
resources--including land, water, fertilizers, pesticides, energy, labor,
and equipment--in environmentally beneficial ways.
- Negative agricultural impacts on the environment lessen.
|POLICY RECOMMENDATION 3|
|Expand agricultural markets
||Pursue efforts to expand agriculture markets in
order to increase demand for agricultural products, returns farmers and
ranchers, investments in environmental protection, and conservation of
natural resources. Support continued negotiations on international
agreements that encourage more open global markets.|
If farmers' revenues increase, they will have greater resources to
invest in their farms, ranch and communities and in environmental
protection and natural resource conservation. The keys to increasing
revenues are controlling production costs and expanding agricultural
Farmers already are highly motivated to control production costs, but
they could use the assistance of the federal government in expanding
agricultural markets. Working with the private sector, the federal
government should explore the feasibility of revolving loans, repayable
grants, or matching grants to conduct market research on, demonstrate
the acceptability of, and promote the expanded use of agricultural
commodities in existing domestic markets; find new uses for these
commodities; and encourage the creation of businesses that utilize
agricultural commodities as rawmaterials in new products.
The federal government also has a role to play in opening up global
agricultural markets to U.S. farmers. As the global population grows
and as demand for higher-quality diets increases in developing
countries, American farmers must be in a position to compete for
additional food-supply business. The government can help them by
supporting continued negotiations on international agreements that
discourage trade-distoring policies.
The Task Force identified the following indicators of progress in
expanding agricultural markets:
- Farmers' market share of commodities that are produced in an
environmentally friendly way increases in international markets.
- New uses for agricultural commodities are found.
- Value-added, environmentally-sound agricultural industries and
entrepreneurial initiatives increase.
- International treaties eliminate trade-distoring policies.
|POLICY RECOMMENDATION 4|
|Revise the pricing of public natural
||Continue to move the pricing of public natural
resources and their use toward market pricing, recognizing that there
may be circumstances when investments are warranted for the public
Getting the prices of resources right is a fundamental tenet of sound
resource management, yet policies that result in subsidies for the use of
natural resources can provide decisionmakers and resource managers with
the "wrong" information regarding the value of those natural resources.
Leases for the use of public natural resources--such as water, grazing
lands, and forest lands--and sales of such resources, both of which
sometimes amount to subsidies, illustrate one of the consequences of
this wrong information. In drawing up contracts for these leases and
sales and in calculating lease rates and sale prices, the government
often neglects to include the full costs of making the resources
available to the private sector or to consider the market prices of the
resources. As a result, the government fails to recover the costs of
resource use from the user.
Policies that result in subsidies for the use of natural resources can
undermine sustainability because they can incorrectly signal that
supplies of the resources are larger than is actually the
case and because they do not reflect the rising demand for environmental
values as per capita income increases. As a result, they often have
supported overconsumption or low-value uses of natural resources.
To prevent natural resource policies from undermining sustainability,
the government should identify and revise, where appropriate, those
subsidies that encourage the use of renewable resources at a rate greater
than is sustainable over the long term. In addition, in drawing up new
contracts for the lease or sale of public natural resources, the
government should consider the market prices of the resources and the
full costs of making the resources available to the private
sector. Finally, the government should recognize rising environmental
values by conserving the use of public natural resources.
The Task Force identified the following indicators of correct prices for
public natural resources:
- The pricing of public natural resources moves toward market
- Long-term investments in conservation and stewardship increase.
|POLICY RECOMMENDATION 5|
|Keep prime farmlands in agricultural
||Keep prime farmlands in agricultural production
by implementing (at the appropriate levels of government) rational
land-use policies such as easement, zoning, taxation, financial
incentive, transportation, and land development policies that reduce the
encroachment of urban sprawl on prime farmlands and that otherwise seek
to preserve the prime land base for U.S. agriculture.|
Highly productive or versatile farmlands are an important part of the
natural resource base upon which the production of food, feed, fuel, and
fiber depend. Stewardship of these prime farmlands, which include both
croplands and grazing lands, is critically important to the
country's economic, environmental, and social health and well-being.
Yet several pressures, both internal and external to agriculture,
threaten to convert prime agricultural lands to nonagricultural uses.
One of these pressures is urban sprawl. More than half of U.S.
agricultural production, measured in dollars at the farm gate, comes from
counties where the expanding urban fringe threatens
prime farmland. Moreover, 30 percent of the nation's agricultural
production comes from so-called Metropolitan Statistical Areas, where
the human population exceeds 197.7 million, and 26
percent comes from adjacent counties with a population density of at
least 25 people per square mile.
Another pressure derives from the fundamental disconnection between the
best use of land resources and the best use of certain lands for
agricultural production. As a result of this disconnection, the prime
cropland is sometimes converted for housing and other uses, leaving
less productive land to support future agricultural production, as well
as supply certain aesthetic, cultural, and other values.
To prevent the loss of prime agricultural lands to nonagricultural uses,
states and localities should make these lands the objects of farmland
The Task Force identified the following indicators of progress toward
reserving prime farmlands for agricultural production:
- By the year 2010, states and localities identify their most
strategic agricultural lands.
- By the year 2025, farmland protection programs protect these lands.
Achieve viable farmers and farm communities.
|POLICY RECOMMENDATION 6|
|Invest in rural communities'
||Help rural communities to capitalize on the
economic benefits of sustainable agriculture by giving priority in rural
business development and marketing programs to investments in enterprises
associated with the products of sustainable agriculture. In addition,
invest in rural communities' infrastructure.|
The economic viability of many rural counties and that of farms and
ranches are closely tied. Mainstreet businesses in rural communities
depend on the spending power of nearby farms and ranches. In turn, these
operations often depend on the services of local agricultural-input
suppliers and local agricultural processing, distribution, and
marketing enterprises. Therefore, investments that support enterprises
associated with the products of sustainable agricultural
systems will help farms and ranches as well as rural communities to
capitalize on the economic benefits of these systems.
Investments that directly support sustainable agriculture are not, by
themselves, sufficient to curtail the exodus of residents from rural
communities. To be healthy, rural communities must have at their base a
solid infrastructure to support economic development. Therefore,
federal and state rural business development programs and marketing
programs should make investments in infrastructure that will help
revitalize many rural communities--for example, investments in upgrades
of bridges and roads and in modernization of medical, communication, and
The Task Force identified the following indicators of increased
investment in rural communities' infrastructure:
- The number of rural-based, value-added businesses that utilize the
products of sustainable agricultural practices increases.
- Fewer unsafe bridges and roadways are found in rural areas.
- Local tax revenues and per capita incomes increase in rural areas.
- Unemployment rates decline in rural areas.
Production of a safe, high-quality, and affordable supply of food and
fiber in a manner that protects and conserves natural resources.
|POLICY RECOMMENDATION 7|
|Continue Improvements in Food Safety and
||Assure continued improvements in the safety and
quality of U.S. food products. Pursue international harmonization of
food standards while maintaining the right of the United States to pursue
its own high standards for food safety and quality.|
U.S. food products have long been among the safest and highest-quality
food products in the world. Technologies that are being developed to
reduce microbial contamination and to better monitor, sometimes on a
continuous basis, the threat of microbial and bacterial contamination
should enhance prospects for maintaining the safety of food products.
Other technologies are improving food quality by making possible the
development or design of food products that are more closely suited to
the dietary needs of domestic and foreign consumers. These technologies
could, in the future, lower the fat content of meats and increase the
nutritional protein content of grains and the vitamin content of fruits
But food safety and quality does not hinge on technological advances
alone; it depends significantly on government oversight of the U.S. food
complex. To ensure continued improvement in food safety and quality, the
USDA should assess grading and testing standards, monitoring mechanisms,
and safety standards for their effectiveness in protecting public
health. It also should expand programs that educate consumers about safe
food-handling practices, strengthen programs that ensure the safety of
food for children and other vulnerable subgroups of the population, and
increase opportunities for a more varied and healthy diet -- especially for
low-income families. Finally, the USDA should encourage the
development and use of quick field tests for food safety and quality
that can be used to assess compliance with microbial contamination and
chemical residue tolerances.
Efforts to enhance food safety cannot be limited to the U.S. food system
because the system operates in a global market where the safety standards
of some countries are lower than in the United States. Given this
reality, the federal government should reinvigorate existing efforts to
strengthen food safety programs in foreign food-exporting countries.
In addition, as food standards worldwide are harmonized, they should be
based on a scientific process that is transparent.
Creation of institutional incentives that focus public and private
research, education, and technology development on integrating
agricultural profitability and productivity with environmental
|POLICY RECOMMENDATION 8|
|Promote the research needed to support a
sustainable U.S. agriculture.
||Develop institutional incentives and funding
arrangements to promote research that shows how to integrate agricultural
productivity and profitability with environmental stewardship. Where
necessary, increase efforts to convey the latest research findings to
local farmers and to educate them about the most promising new
technologies and management strategies for achieving
Agricultural research has been responsible for substantial efficiency
gains in agricultural production. Major advances in agricultural science
and technology have helped farmers double and even triple and quadruple
the per-acre yields of some crops since the mid-1930s. They also have
assisted farmers in increasing the productivity of farm animals. For
example, at the beginning of this century, a milk cow produced approximately
4,000 pounds of milk each year, whereas today it can produce more than 15,000
pounds over the same period.
Looking ahead to the future, the need is for research that helps farmers
and ranchers to be good environmental stewards while they are increasing
their productivity. In short, a sustainable U.S. agriculture will require
research that focuses on integrating productiviy, profitabliliy, and
While both publicly funded and privately funded research have greatly enhanced
the performance of agricultural producers in the past, two tendencies may
diminish the potential contribution of research to the sustainability of U.S.
agriculture in the future. First, agricultural research is often narrowly
focused. Second, publicly funded research is conducted within the constraints of brief budget cycles.
Agricultural research tends to focus on individual aspects of agricultural
production-for example, pest control, soil management techniques, or
development of new crop varieties-rather than on whole production systems,
including the ecological systems that are the settings for farming and ranching
operations. Moreover, agricultural research tends to emphasize the insights
of single discoplines rather than combining the expertise of multiple
disciplines, including biology, chemisty, ecology, and economics. This narrow
focus, which has evolved in response to institutional pressures for
specialization, impedes the acquisition of knowledge that would enhance
the sustainabilty of U.S. agriculture, particularly where environmental
costs and values are concerned. To remedy this problem, the U.S. Department
of Agriculture (in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and the U.S. Department of the Interior) should take the lead in developing
a plan to focus agricultural research on multiple aspects of agricultural
production from the perspective of multiple disciplines. In doing so, it
should seek input from universities, scientific societies, agribusinesses,
grower organizations, and other organizations.
Agricultural research programs often operate on an annual budget cycle,
requiring researchers to submit grant applicatins each year to continue
projects. Because projects often require more than one year's work, they
could lose funding before they are completed. To remedy this situation, the
USDA should revise grant programs to make provisions for financial commitments
of terms longer than one year. Moreover, when administrators of grant programs
are deciding which projects merit such commitments, they should give priority
to projects that include on-farm demonstrations of promising new tehnologies
and management strategies for enhancing the sustainablity of agriculture.
Of cource, research serves little purpose unless it reaches the hands of
those in a position to use it. The implication is that agricultural extension
agencies should imporve, if necessary, their efforts to convey to local farmers the latest findings of sound, publicly funded agricultural research, In
addition, agricultural research institutions that receive public funds should
educate agricultural producers, to the extent that they are not already doing
so, about the latest tehnological advances and most efficient management
The Task Force identified the following indicators of progress in generating
the research needed to support a sustainable agriculture and in promoting
education about promising technologies and management strategies:
- By the year 2000, USDA develops a plan to overcome institutional and
funding barriers to multifaced and multidisciplinary research.
- By the year 2000, USDA develops criteria to ensure that agricultural
research proposals simultaneously address issues of profitability,
productivity, and environmental protection.
- By 2010, a signigicant portion and, by 2020, a majority of publicly funded
research administered by USDA addresses issues of profitablilty, productivity,
and environmental protection.
- All applied research has a strong technology transfer and demonstration
- Research grants administered by USDA are allocated on a competitive,
- Consumers, conservation groups, and other public interests are involved
in USDA's decisions about which research to fund.
- USDA substantially increases its funding of research, including on-farm
studies of sustainable production systems.
- USDA expands its cooperative research with academic institutions and
nongovernmental organizations on perennial polyculture systems modeled on
- Non-USDA programs that provide federal funding for agricultural research
and extension programs begin assessing proposals for their relevance to
|POLICY RECOMMENDATION 9|
|Pursue international harmonization of
intellectual property rights
||Pursue international harmonization of intellectual
property rights in order provide incentives for the development of new
agricultural technologies. Support the objectives of the International
Convention on Biological Diversity in order to conserve genetic resources
and protect intellectual property rights.
Given the food and fiber demands projected for the 21st century, development
of ever more advanced technologies for increading agricultural productivity
is critical. But this productivity cannot jeopardize biologically diverse
ecosystems. In the long term, the sustainability of U.S. agriculture depends
on both new agricultural technologies and efforts to conserve biodiversity and
genetic resources globally. Intellectual property rights are key to the
development of these technologies and the success of these efforts.
Recent trade agreements, notably NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement)
and those agreements reached during the Uruguay Round of GATT (General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), have imposed new guidelines for the protection of intellectual property rights. As these guidelines are implemented and
adopted by additional countries, the U.S. government should work to ensure that they maximize benefits for genetic resource conservation and sustainable agriculture. In addition, the U.S. government should help to structure and implement the intellectual
property provisions of trade agreements and other international treaties in ways that protect the interests of indigenous peoples whose long-standing knowledge of biodiversity resources has helped fuel innovation and development in multibillion dollar in
dustries, including agriculture, but who often have not been compensated for sharing this knowledge.
The Task Force identified the following indicators of the influence of intellectual proprety rights:
- A plan providing incentives for the countries to adopt genetic-resource
conservation provisions is developed by the end of 1996 and reflected in U.S.
agricultural, trade, and foreign policies shortly thereafter.
- The United States ratifies the Convention on Biological Diversity and
leads efforts for its implementation worldwide.