New, high-tech tools developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are helping farmers and managers make better-informed decisions by assessing the economic and ecological outcomes of different management practices.

Profitable environmental management relies on a variety of factors, and balancing economic and ecological interests can be challenging. To assist managers in this task, Jason Bergtold, an economist at the ARS National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, Auburn, Ala., is working with colleagues to develop two user-friendly tools — an economic model and a farm payment calculator. The Conservation Systems Learning Tool model predicts how profitable various crops will be under different management systems. The Crop Profitability Calculator evaluates how factors such as conservation incentive payments and practices influence the profitability of crop enterprises.

Bergtold's research also investigates whether conservation practices are being accepted, maintained or intensified, and why. For example, he and his colleagues have nearly completed a study that examines how factors such as demographics, farm characteristics, management practices and personal beliefs influence southeastern farmers who could qualify for economic support by adopting conservation practices.

Understanding the incentives that lead farmers to embrace conservation could help program developers, researchers and policymakers transfer conservation technology more successfully.

You can learn more about the research in the July 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at:

Agricultural Research Service