Monday, September 15, 2014

Environmental Benefits Assessments for USDA Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA uses an  Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) to rank Conservation Reserve Program land applications by prioritizing soil conservation, water quality, and wildlife habitat.  Six factors are considered:
  1. Wildlife habitat benefits resulting from covers on contract acreage 
  2. Water quality benefits from reduced erosion, runoff and leaching 
  3. On-farm benefits from reduced erosion 
  4. Benefits that will likely endure beyond the contract period 
  5. Air quality benefits from reduced wind erosion
  6. Cost
1.  Wildlife habitat is determined by looking at planting composition (introduced or native), number and composition of species (more species, and more functional groups such as legumes, shrubs, trees, forbs, and grasses have higher value), and landscape context (strips, blocks or mixtures that form corridors or gaps).  Points are also available for providing pollinator habitat and for enhancing wildlife in areas high-priority areas.

2.  Water quality benefits are determined by whether or not the property is in a designated surface water quality impairment zone, the type of soil, potential soil erosion, and distance to major waterbodies.

3.  Not discussed.

4.  Enduring benefits are determined subjectively based on the probability that conservation will continue beyond the CRP contract.  For example, trees would be expected to live longer than the 10-year CRP contract.

5.  Air quality benefits are determined by calculating potential wind erosion (based on average wind speed and soil texture), whether the property is in a air quality nonattainment area, and the potential to sequester carbon in the soil by planting trees, shrubs, or grass.

For more information, see the CRP Farm Science Administration website at

....USDA also periodically reviews the effectiveness of their programs using the Conservation Effects Assessment Project.  Data and papers can be found here.

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