Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands provide ecosystem service benefits that exceed land rental payment costs

Kris A. Johnson, Brent J. Dalzell, Marie Donahue, Jesse Gourevitch, Dennis L. Johnson, Greg S. Karlovits, Bonnie Keeler, Jason T. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Global demand for commodities prompted the expansion of row crop agriculture in the Upper Midwest, USA with unknown consequences for multiple ecosystem services. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was designed to protect these services by paying farmers to retire environmentally sensitive land. Here we assessed whether the benefits provided by CRP's targeted retirement of agricultural land are equal to or greater in value than the cost of rental payments to farmers. We quantified the benefits of CRP lands for reducing flood damages, improving water quality and air-quality, and contributing to greenhouse gas mitigation in the Indian Creek watershed in Iowa. We found that for all assessed scenarios of CRP implementation, the ecosystem service benefits provided by CRP lands exceed the cost of payments to farmers. Expanding CRP implementation under one of three potential scenarios would require an average per-acre payment of $1311 over the life of a 10-year contract but would generate benefits with a net present value of between $1710 and $6401. This analysis suggests that investment in CRP in Indian Creek, and likely in other watersheds in the Upper Midwest, is justified based upon the value of public and private benefits provided by CRP lands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-185
Number of pages11
JournalEcosystem Services
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge the USDA (Grant no. F14AP00712)– Farm Service Agency for sharing baseline information about CRP lands in Indian Creek. We also thank USGS for sharing an initial SWAT model for the Cedar Basin and the Iowa Soybean Association for providing data to assist with hydrologic model calibration and validation. In addition, we thank Elise DeBuysser for assistance with literature reviews, Lance Le of the University of Iowa IIHR for sharing precipitation data and the IA Department of Natural Resources GIS Library and the Linn County GIS Office for sharing GIS data. J Fargione, P Kareiva, and M Miller provided helpful reviews on earlier drafts of this manuscript. This research was made possible by the McKnight Foundation's generous support of The Nature Conservancy and additional support was provided by a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Landscape Conservation Cooperatives program.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V.


  • Agriculture
  • Conservation reserve program
  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Ecosystem services
  • Valuation
  • Water quality


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