Data Needs for Agri-Environmental Policy Modeling & Analysis

USDA Economic Research Service and Farm Foundation collaborated to presented a workshop to foster discussion about data needs for fruitful analysis of agri-environmental policy, as seen from the perspective of both the users and providers of this data. Abstracts of the presentations made at the October 2007 workshop are provided below, as well as PDFs of the presentations.  A summary of the workshop has been compiled.

Marce Weinberg
Director, Resource and Rural Economics Division, USDA Economic Research Service
What is the Issue? What Does it Matter?
Session 1: Data Users
Vince Breneman
Director, GIS Lab of USDA Economic Research Service
What Data Does ERS Use?
Roger Claasen
Agricultural Economist, USDA Economic Research Service
Modeling Conservation Behavior
A full model of conservation behavior requires detailed data on producer actions as well as data describing the demographic, economic, resource, and policy context in which these actions are taken. Previous research on land use at the extensive margin of crop production shows that the Conservation Reserve Program and subsidized Federal crop insurance have affected the amount of land in cultivation and provided some estimates of changes in soil erosion and nutrient runoff due to these land use effects. The research benefited from high quality data on land use (including Conservation Reserve Program enrollment), land productivity, land erodibility, and soil erosion. Links to economic conditions, potential return to crop insurance purchase, and the effects of commodity policy were not as strong. Data on producer demographics was not available.
Michael Hand
Agricultural Economist, USDA Economic Research Service
Characterizing Participation in Conservation Programs
An emerging conservation policy issue is program participation of beginning, limited resource, and socially-disadvantaged producers. But little information is available about the patterns of participation of these groups. Preliminary research using EQIP contracts data and ARMS data shows that there may exist policy-relevant differences between limited-resource producers and the larger farm population. However, important data are not currently available that would allow a thorough analysis of these differences or extend the analysis to other producer groups of interest.Data that would be most useful in future research includes household and individual characteristics of contract holders, and farm and field characteristics where conservation practices are implemented. Household and individual characteristics include information about education, income, race, Hispanic status, and employment status. These data would allow for comparisons between program participants and non-participants. Farm and field characteristics may include operation size, acres benefiting from conservation practices, and information about underlying field resource conditions. A primary benefit of these data would be the ability to examine whether differences in participation are related to physical, field-level differences between producer groups.
Glenn Schaible
Water Resource Economist, Production & Technology Economics Branch, USDA Economic Research Service, examining irrigation management and technology adoption issues, water use and water economic issues, as well as factors influencing producer conservation practice adoption decisions across U.S. agriculture.
Integrated Survey Data: CEAP-ARMS and Beyond
To measure the success of USDA’s working-lands conservation programs, a database was needed to isolate the influence of program incentives from other factors governing farmers’ conservation decisions. The CEAP-ARMS pilot survey integration program (a joint effort by USDA’s NRCS, ERS, and NASS) was conducted for wheat (2004) and corn (2005). The integrated CEAP-ARMS database linked farm production practices, farm economic and producer characteristics, and site-specific environmental characteristics, enabling a comparative assessment of how USDA conservation program incentives affect economic behavior and environmental outcomes. Analysis of CEAP-ARMS data demonstrates that estimated benefits from conservation program participation may be biased when landscape heterogeneity is not accounted for in conservation program analysis. Specifically, use of farm-level environmental data significantly reduces the bias associated with using aggregate data, improving the reliability of research results. In addition, use of aggregate soil loss data tends to over-estimate conservation program response; that is, on-site soil loss information significantly improves predictions of acres under conservation management. However, CEAP-ARMS was only a 2-year pilot project. This presentation emphasizes the “value-added” with integrated production practice, operator, farm economic, and site-specific environmental data. It will also suggest several potential options for further survey data integration for conservation policy analysis.
Session 2: More Data Users
Richard Iovanna
Agricultural Economist, USDA Farm Services Agency
Revising the Likely-to-Bid Model and Other CRP Data Needs
ForFSA’s Conservation Reserve Program to be administered effectively, it is essential to have ready access to field-level data with National coverage. Predicting who we would like to enroll in the program, who is likely to enroll in the program as new signups occur, and who is unlikely to re-enroll as existing contracts expire informs Farm Bill discussion about policy alternatives and is generally the basis for estimates of program costs and benefits. While foregone agricultural returns greatly influence these predictions, estimating these requires awareness of precisely which soils are on fields. Extrapolation from more aggregate data or sampled points on the landscape is problematic because the spatial correlation of inherent soil properties is determined by geological processes and seldom straightforward. Field-level information is also required to estimate the erosion, water quality, and wildlife benefits of enrollments because of the role that landscape configuration plays in their provision. Discussion will encompass the simple approaches taken.
Scott Malcolm
Agricultural Economist, USDA Economic Research Service
Data Needs for Regional Environmental Policy Analysis
The Regional Environment and Agriculture Policy model (REAP) currently is used to measure agriculture’s response to policy and environment shocks at a regional level defined by the intersection of Farm Production Region (political) and Land Resource Region (soil and geography). Thus environmental outcomes are limited to generalizations subject to the homogeneity of the regions. The structure of REAP is general enough to define regions at the watershed level. This would allow for a more “detailed” view of environmental outcomes. A brief description of the REAP model, and its current and potential data requirements will be presented.
Bruce McCarl
Regents Professor of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University
Data Needs Involved with Modeling Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change and Animal Biosecurity
The needs for modeling such involves a mixture of population, and practice data including alterations in some of these items over time.Data needed that are hard to get are:

  • Practice data as it evolves from year to year so one can observe in a time series and panel setting under altered climate change.
  • Data on production under alternative practices that might be used in addressing greenhouse gas mitigation including acres by tillage class and an accompanying land use history mainly whether the land has been in the tillage class over time.
  • Livestock population and budget data at smaller aggregates.
  • Livestock budgets over time.
  • Production possibilities rather than just observations.
  • Setup data for crop simulation
  • Crop data for smaller aggregates
  • Reliable fertilization data and data on fertilizer response
  • Feed usage data by feedstock

Some of these items include data that are reported that have low quality others involve data that are suppressed due to confidentiality.

Session 3: Data Providers
Robert Kellogg
Coordinator for the CEAP Cropland National Assessment, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Forthcoming National/Regional Databases on Farming Activities, Conservation Practices, and Estimates of the Effects of Conservation Practices for Cultivated Cropland
The Cropland National Assessment Component of the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) conducted a comprehensive survey of farming activities and conservation practices to support model simulations of the effects of conservation practices on environmental quality. National and regional estimates will be made of the reductions in loss of soil, nutrients, and pesticides from farm fields attributable to conservation practices currently in place on the landscape, as well as reductions in in-stream concentrations and loadings for major river basins. The data and model estimates are an extension of the National Resources Inventory (NRI) database.
Stacy Wills and Doug Farmer
Statisticians, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service
ARMS and Other NASS Datasets
The National Agricultural Statistics Services (NASS) has a long history of collecting environmental and economic data. Our environmental program began in 1989. This data collection effort was initiated to support the President’s Water Quality Initiative and USDA’s Food Safety Initiative. Since 1996, the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) has been conducted in cooperation with Economic Research Service (ERS) to produce statistically reliable and readily available information on the amount and types of chemicals used in agriculture. The program since then has expanded to collect information on pest management practices and other alternative means of controlling pest. Additional, environmental data is collected on conservation program participation and practices. Such questions as: 1) what are farmers doing to reduce soil erosion, how are they managing water use, and how do they minimize pollution from run-off are explored.
Jay Atwood
Agricultural Economist, USDA’s Natural Resources and Conservation Service, working out of the Blackland Research Center, Temple, Texas.
The EPIX/APEX Process Models: Improvements, Multi-Run Management Software, Support Data and Examples
Recent improvements to the EPIC modeling system are described. The APEX model extends the EPIC spatial point simulation capability to simultaneously model multiple heterogeneous sub-areas of a field or small watershed. Apex accounts for water and material flow between sub-areas and out of the area. Windows based multiple-run management software enables the user to hold both input and output data in Access tables. Recently developed routines for improving available soil and weather data are described. The National Nutrient Loss and Soil Carbon database is described. Finally, brief examples of analysis of current policy issues are given.
Jeff Goebel
Senior Statistician and National Leader for Resource Inventories, Resources Inventory Division, USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service
The National Resources Inventory
Session 4: General Discussion of all Presentations
Discussants Panel
Otto Doering
Agricultural Economist and Public Policy Specialist, Purdue University. He has served the U.S. Department of Agriculture working on the 1977 and 1990 Farm Bills. In 1997 he was the Principal Advisor to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for implementing the 1996 Farm Bill.
John Stierna
American Farmland Trust
He previously worked for and retired from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. He is on the Board of Trustees of Finlandia University.
Jerry Fletcher
West Virginia University
Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Director of both the Natural Resource Analysis Center and the U.S.-China Energy Center at West Virginia University. He serves as on the board of directors of the Council on Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics (C-FARE) and the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS) as a representative of the AAEA.
Dennis Aigner
University of California, Irvine
Professor of Management and Economics, and former Dean of The Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine.
Workshop Summary
Dennis Aigner
University of California, Irvine
Workshop Summary

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