Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are transactions between landholders and the beneficiaries of the services their land provides. PES schemes are growing worldwide with annual transactions over ten billion dollars (Salzman et al., 2018). Much can be learned from looking at oldest and best funded PES schemes on working agricultural land. Initiated in 1985, the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is the oldest private conservation PES program in the United States. CRP incentivizes farmers to put their land into conservation through an annual payment. In Iowa, CRP has been a source of extra income and a way for farmers to buffer the fluctuating costs of cash crops, such as corn and soy. The dominance of agriculture in Iowa poses many challenges for water quality. A potential solution to the problem, implemented through CRP, is the use of conservation practices to mitigate the negative effects of agricultural run-off.
This dissertation considers three aspects of the problem:
1. the relationship between changes in land cover due to CRP enrollment and changes in water quality, controlling for a range of factors known to have an effect on the filtering role of different land covers;
2. the inter-annual variability in water quality measures and enrollment in different CRP conservation practices to examine the cost-effectiveness of specific conservation practices in mitigating lake sedimentation and eutrophication;
3. discrete choice models to identify what characteristics drive the enrollment by farmers into specific conservation practices.
Results indicate that land cover and CRP have different impacts on different indicators of lake water quality. In addition, conservation practices that were cost-effective for one water quality variable tended to be cost-effective for the other water quality variables. Farmers are making decisions to enroll in CRP based on the opportunity cost of the land. Therefore, it is necessary to alter financial incentives to promote productive land being putting into CRP through continuous sign-up. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) needs a more effective way to calculate the payment level for practices in order to be competitive with the predicted value of major crops.