Multifunctional agriculture in the United States

George Boody, Bruce Vondracek, David A. Andow, Mara Krinke, John Westra, Julie Zimmerman, Patrick Welle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

220 Scopus citations


We evaluated possible changes to current farming practices in two Minnesota watersheds to provide insight into how farm policy might affect environmental, social, and economic outcomes. Watershed residents helped develop four scenarios to evaluate alternative future trends in agricultural management and to project potential economic and environmental outcomes. We found that environmental and economic benefits can be attained through changes in agricultural land management without increasing public costs. The magnitude of these benefits depends on the magnitude of changes to agricultural practices. Environmental benefits include improved water quality, healthier fish, increased carbon sequestration, and decreased greenhouse gas emissions, while economic benefits include social capital formation, greater farm profitability, and avoided costs. Policy transitions that emphasize functions of agriculture in addition to food production are crucial for creating change. We suggest that redirecting farm payments by using alternative incentives could lead to substantial environmental changes at little or no extra cost to the taxpayer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-38
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was part of a study titled “Economic Analysis of Agriculture for Multiple Benefits,” funded by the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (approved by the Minnesota Legislature, 1999 Minnesota Laws, ch. 231, sec. 15, subd. 7[n], as recommended by the Commission from the future resources fund); the Joyce Foundation; the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Nebraska Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Nebraska– Lincoln, under Cooperative Agreement no. 99-COOP-1-7686); the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture; the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; and FoodRoutes Network. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the US government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or other funding partners. We thank our other team members, without whom this project would not have been completed: Cornelia Flora, Jan Flora, and Kristen Corselius for their work on the social and human capital aspects of the study; Steve Light for work on scenarios; farmers Dan French and Paul Homme for contributing information on grazing scenarios and perspectives on the project as a whole; and others who contributed valuable insights and information, including Larry Gates, Mary Hanks, Frances Homans, Beth Knudsen, David Mulla, Kylene Olson, Mark Schultz, Kathleen Storms, Caroline van Schaik, Bill Vorley, and Wynne Wright. We also thank Prasanna Gowda for his assistance with the ADAPT simulations, Marin Byrne for researching wetlands literature, and Cecilia Berg for assistance with GIS. Earlier drafts were improved by Kendra McLauch-lan, Matthew Liebman, Wilfred M. Post, and two anonymous reviewers.


  • Carbon sequestration
  • Farm policy
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Nutrient runoff
  • Suspended sediment


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