Research Bulletin (Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station)


It is not the purpose of this bulletin to recommend solutions to the soil conservation and land use problems but rather to clarify objectives, evaluate basic assumptions and interpret such concepts as soil conservation and land use adjustment in the light of public policy.

The conclusions, therefore, cannot be presented in terms of statement of facts, nor of specific recommendations for changes in land use, but in terms of definitions of concepts, appraisal of objectives and suggestions for methodological procedure which may lead to the development of an effective agricultural conservation policy.

In the past, research in agricultural economics has been focused on the individual farm organization and on the prices of farm products as the major determinants. The relatively depressed conditions in agriculture since the World War, in conjunction with a rapid deterioration of land resources in large parts of major agricultural regions, gave rise to new sets of problems which cannot be handled adequately by traditional research procedure. Regional land use patterns and livestock systems, the forces that determine them and the effect they have on the land as a natural resource constitute a relatively new field for scientific inquiry. From this field any sound and well-rounded land use policy must be developed.

The primary emphasis in the adjustment studies discussed in these pages lies on the determination of land use patterns and crop systems which would conserve the soil resources as fully as it seems economically feasible, assuming no drastic changes in price relationships and in the intensity of farming. Before effective policies accomplishing this objective can be outlined, the concept of soil conservation and its economic implications must be clarified.

Soil conservation aims at the elimination of two types of soil deterioration: erosion and depletion. From the viewpoint of public policy, soil losses from erosion are more serious and require remedial action more urgently than fertility losses from depletion through crop removal. Erosion losses are irreplaceable, occur at a progressive rate, and cause increased flood hazards and silting of streams and reservoirs. The effects of fertility depletion remain localized and can be more easily corrected by application of organic matter and fertilizer. Erosion control, in contrast, usually implies substantial changes in the land use pattern and crop system with all their subsequent effects on livestock systems, farm size and organization, and land tenure conditions.

One of the most difficult problems of a soil conservation policy is, therefore, to accomplish an adequate regional allocacation of emphasis on conservation in terms of public funds and human efforts employed. Soil conservation as an objective of public policy is of a relative rather than absolute character. Instead of diffusing available funds over wide regions regardless of the various land classes and their relative need for conservation, such funds should be concentrated upon those land classes where conservation is most urgent in the interest of the public welfare. The problem is not one of complete preservation of all plant nutrients and soil characteristics on all land classes, but rather one of achieving an adequate degree of conservation on the various land classes according to the present supply of resources left· and the present and prospective rate of deterioration.

A carefully balanced policy of soil conservation must evaluate the probable effect of certain desirable changes in land use patterns and crop systems on livestock systems, on the general farm organization, on the adequacy of the prevailing' farm size pattern and land tenure conditions, and on the aggregate volume of agricultural production. The present adjustment studies, however, confined the estimates of probable effects of certain land use changes to livestock systems. This phase of research in agricultural adjustment is necessarily speculative in character and involves a highly intricate method of procedure. Different solutions should be developed for different sets of clearly defined assumptions, as there is no unique solution to the disposal of the products obtained from any given crop system. Price relationships, consumers' purchasing power, interregional competition, international trade and land tenure conditions are but a few of the more important factors to be considered in evaluating the long-time effect of a comprehensive policy of soil conservation.

Research activities in this field must necessarily transgress the lines of specific research departments. Workers in agronomy, animal husbandry and economics, particularly, have closely cooperated in the present studies. The development of a technique of effective interdepartmental cooperation is essential to progress in developing a rational land use and soil conservation policy.



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