February 25, 2010
Results from a recent survey conducted by Tufts University, in cooperation with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, demonstrate that a majority of the conservation practices funded by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are ranked as advancing sustainability, while several rank as not advancing sustainability. The survey results and accompanying article are published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.
The Tufts EQIP survey of academics, farmers, government, and NGOs with expertise in sustainable agriculture was conceived of as an alternative, complementary analysis to the sole use of environmental outcomes as an indicator of conservation program success. Sustainability incorporates not only environmental outcomes but also economic viability and social impacts. The survey asked respondents to rate 47 selected National Conservation Practice Standards as either Advancing Sustainability or Not Advancing Sustainability.
Of the 47 conservation practices that were considered by survey respondents, over 73% of the EQIP payments fell under the category of Advancing Sustainability, while over 26% of the EQIP payments fell under the category of Not Advancing Sustainability, including a number of irrigation and livestock waste-related practices.
Interestingly, the survey responses were also analyzed by sector. Overall, the respondents from academia ranked practices for which there were cross-sector discrepancies (anaerobic digesters, trickle irrigation systems, irrigation pipeline, and solid waste separation facilities) more favorably than did farmers and representatives of NGOs and government agencies.
The study’s primary investigator, Tufts doctoral candidate Melissa Bailey, notes the importance of evaluating whether the practices funded by EQIP are consistent with perspectives on what advances sustainability given that the USDA is increasingly “developing programs and policies that incorporate sustainability as a goal for our food system…”