Conserving biodiversity on agricultural lands is both intrinsically valuable and integral in maintaining ecological structures that provide key ecosystem services necessary for productive agricultural activities. Ecosystem services ranging from natural pest management, pollination of key crops, and maintenance of soil structure all are indispensable and must be maintained through the conservation of plant and animal biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. While current management programs address the best practices to ameliorate environmental concerns, limited evidence as to their cost effectiveness in providing environmental outcomes decreases the reliability of such programs in clearly achieving desired results. The inflexibility of management tactics, the lack of attention to targeting problematic areas, and the low importance attached to monitoring for actual environmental outcomes create inefficiency of current practice-based programs in the US when it comes to providing truly valuable biodiversity, soil/water, and air quality outcomes. However, in recent years, results-based programs that focus specifically on payment to farmers for producing outcomes have been the focal point for successfully ameliorating agriculture’s ecosystem degradation concerns.
Using case studies from a variety of results-based programs [click here for an interactive Google Earth map of the programs!] in Europe, the European Free Trade Association, Australia, Canada, and the United States, this report by EPIC intern Hannah Castelo aims to detail the potential of this program design in the US. Through careful evaluation of differences in program designs, the developmental process reported in each pilot program and the lessons learned upon each program's completion, this report makes recommendations for integrating results-based approaches into current US conservation policy. Six focus areas deserve consideration for new programs being developed in the U.S.:
Localize outcome-based Conservation Programs
Involve local stakeholders in the design and implementation of the programs, even if funding is centralized/national. Pilot programs in England and Ireland utilized self-assessment methodologies as the monitoring mechanism and as a result catalyzed a significant increase in farmer engagement with the environment and a heightened sense of responsibility in terms of environmental stewardship among participants.
Design effective programs
Successful programs include features like modeling prior to implementation, community outreach/training programs, selection of indicators, comprehensive monitoring mechanisms and the development of fair payment structures.
Target land for maximization of environmental benefits
Paying for management changes and resulting positive environmental outcomes produces the most valuable results when lands are targeted based on potential to achieve the largest environmental benefit.
Direct funding for participation/farmer behavior research to bolster future participation
Farmer participation is key to successful programs, but very little research into what drives willingness to participate in results-based programs exists. Funding directed towards increasing the robustness of farmer behavior research might be particularly valuable in developing future programs.
Adopt a hybrid approach
Most of the case studies from Europe and beyond use a hybrid, two-pronged approach that pays farmers a base level of pay for implementation of best practices, with tiered payments available to farmers for achieving certain outcomes. The Flowering Meadow scheme in France, for example, requires base level management practices such as scheduled mowing periods, meant to encourage biodiversity conservation, and then offers tiered payments for the presence of 4-6 indicator species.
Consideration of equity
Equity issues in agriculture have been a persistent problem especially in the United States and consideration should be given to equity and inclusion within the design process of any new payment system for farmers.