Air + Water Improvement

The importance of air and water cleanliness is undeniable. The health issues and costs associated with treating and managing these issues affect every region around the world where pollution is an issue. In a post-industrialized world, many countries, communities, and organizations have faced this problem through a variety of solutions, both in the public and private sectors.

Rural areas have long been idealized as the place to go for good, clean air. However, the “fresh” air of the countryside may not be so fresh after all. Since farmers began tilling the soil to grow crops and raise animals, agricultural production practices have generated a variety of substances that enter the atmosphere and have the potential of creating health and environmental problems. The relation-ship between agriculture and air quality first entered the public psyche in the 1930s with the severe dust storms of the Dust Bowl. Although huge dust storms are long gone, and air emissions in most rural areas are not high enough to cause concern, the air in some farming communities can now be as impaired by pollutants such as ozone and particulates as air in urban areas.

Air quality policies have traditionally focused on urban areas and industrial emissions. Extending these laws to cover agriculture would require an understanding of how farmers respond to different policy incentives. Farmers have many choices in deciding on what to produce and the production practices to use. Their production decisions are based on market prices, the characteristics of the farm’s resources, the technologies that are available, and the farmer’s particular level of management skill. But incentives to consider wider impacts of their production choices on environmental quality are often lacking. Environmental policy can influence a farmer’s decisions by changing the costs of inputs to encourage or discourage input use, or by mandating that particular management practices be used or abandoned. Currently, a lack of knowledge about air emissions from agriculture could hinder the development of cost-effective policies.

Policy formation is also compounded by the fact that possible efforts to reduce agricultural air emissions could diminish the effectiveness of ongoing efforts to address water quality concerns. At a minimum, regulations and incentives designed to address a problem in one medium (air or water) may not be as cost effective at meeting resource quality goals as those that are coordinated across multiple media.