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Agriculture at a Crossroads: Ensuring Conservation and Income Support in the Farm Bill Open Access

While most farmers take steps to enhance natural resources, times of low prices and high costs may create difficulties for farmers who wish to spend resources on agriculture conservation. Consequently, farming can have a harmful effect on natural resources. Because many farmers rely on income support payments, and most income programs do not require farmers to utilize environmental conservation practices, environmental degradation continues. To ensure adequate protection of water quality, soil quality and wildlife habitat, and to provide income support for farms of all sizes, politically feasible legislation is needed to link income payments with conservation practices. This article follows the outline of atraditional policy analysis to examine four policy options for the farm bill the Conservation Security Program (CSP), Flex Fallow, the Conservation Reserve Program, and conservation easements. The options range from conservative to liberal, with differing environmental and income impacts. Policy options for achieving these goals were judged using the following criteria: effectiveness in achieving conservation goals,' effectiveness in supporting farmer income,' political feasibility,' and strength of the linkage between conservation practices and income payments. Based on this analysis, CSP is the best option for the farm bill, because it is a compromise approach to achieving the goals of this analysis. This evaluation is presented as a policy analysis in order to provide a systematic technique for identifying solutions to current farm policy problems. The elements of a policy analysis traditionally include formulating a problem, identifying policy alternatives, forecasting the future, modeling the impacts of alternatives, and comparing and ranking the policy alternatives.

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