Alternative Agriculture:

Federal Incentives and Farmers' Opinions

T-PEMD-90-9: Published: Mar 15, 1990. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 1990.

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GAO discussed the incentives and disincentives of federal farm programs that influenced farmers' adoption of alternative production methods. GAO noted that while federal farm programs pose no direct statutory or regulatory barriers that would prevent the adoption of alternative practices, the programs: (1) support crops requiring high agrichemical inputs and those associated with high rates of soil erosion; (2) encourage farmers to specialize in program crops and grow the same crops from year to year; (3) discourage farmers from rotating crops and encourage high levels of conventional inputs; (4) encourage farmers to produce program-supported crops on marginal lands; and (5) influenced the limitation of farm credit and insurance because lenders were less likely to invest in or provide protection for alternative practices. GAO also noted that farmers: (1) believed federal farm programs greatly influenced their planting decisions; (2) believed farm program participation and crop diversity were good strategies for reducing farm-related risks, and less than half considered crop insurance to be a good risk-reduction strategy; and (3) expect to continue their current practices, despite research suggesting that conventional agriculture practices damage the environment and other research showing that alternative agriculture can be profitable.

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