Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Community Development and Applied Economics

First Advisor

David S. Conner

Abstract

Many farms in the United States impose negative externalities on society. Population growth and the accompanying increase in demand for food further promote this trend of environmental degradation as a by-product of food production. The USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial assistance to farmers who wish to address natural resource concerns by making structural improvements or implementing best management practices (BMPs) on their farms. Regional examinations of program implementation and incentive levels are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of EQIP at both the farm and environmental level. This research addresses this need in the following two ways. First, conjoint analysis was used to calculate the willingness to accept incentive levels desired by Vermont farmers for implementing three common BMPs and the relative importance of each attribute in their adoption decisions. Next, a survey was conducted to document Vermont farmers' experiences, or choices not to engage, with EQIP. The results of the conjoint analysis indicated that farmers' adoption decisions are most heavily influenced by the available implementation incentives and that the higher the incentive level offered, the more willing farmers are to adopt a practice. The survey results triangulated these findings as cost was the most frequently cited challenge farmers face when implementing BMPs and one third of respondents felt the cost-share amount they had received was inadequate. Although 46% of respondents reported receiving nonmonetary benefits, 43% had encountered challenges when enrolling or participating in EQIP. In addition, though contracts are designed to address specific resource concerns, 30% of respondents had not fully fixed the original issues with their contracts. This also indicates that the incentive levels offered in EQIP contracts may be lower than Vermont farmers' preferred incentive levels, affecting the adoption rate of BMPs and subsequently the environmental health and long term sustainability of Vermont's agricultural systems. Program areas ripe for improvement, key points for farmers weighing the costs and benefits of program participation, and future research opportunities are discussed in order to guide efforts to improve the effectiveness of EQIP in Vermont. This research also raises awareness of how much it costs to simultaneously support environmental health and food production in our current food system and who ultimately should bear this financial burden.

Language

en

Number of Pages

154 p.