In order to promote sustainable practices on agricultural land, it is necessary to understand the interactions between agriculture and the environment.  The sources below are included to provide information on this interaction.  The list includes sources that examine the harmful effects of certain agricultural practices, as well as sources that address ways in which agriculture can provide solutions or at least mitigate environmental degredation.  In large part, these resources address agriculture’s interaction with the regional and global environment.  Information on the details of specific on-farm conservation practices can be found under the seperate heading, Conservation Practices.

General Resources

The Environmental Working Group: Farming

  • The Environmental Working Group expresses its two primary goals as:

1. To protect the most vulnerable segments of the human population—children, babies, and infants in the womb—from health problems attributed to a wide array of toxic contaminants.

2. To replace federal policies, including government subsidies that damage the environment and natural resources, with policies that invest in conservation and sustainable development.

  • To accomplish these goals EWG has much information dedicated to agricultural practices, government farm programs, and their effects on the environment and human health.

Climate Change

Climate Change Impacts on Iowa, Iowa Climate Change Impacts Committee, January 1, 2011.

  • This report to Iowa’s Governor and Legislature analyzes the effects climate change will have on the state of Iowa and includes policy recommendations.
  • There is a chapter dedicated to agriculture, which details the beneficial impacts, such as longer growing seasons, as well as negative effects, including increased flooding, that can result from a changing climate.

Will Climate Change Impact the Sustainability of Iowa Farms?, an Iowa State University (ISU) Shivvers Memorial Lecture by Gene Takle (February 6, 2011).

  • An audio podcast of ISU Professor Gene Takle providing a synopsis of climate change and then focusing on the impact of these global changes on Iowa’s agricultural sector.

The Costs and Benefits to Agriculture from Climate Change Policy by Bruce A. Babcock, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, 15 IOWA AG. REV. 1 (2009).

  • Discusses the costs and benefits to agriculture of climate change policies, in particular cap and trade legislation.
  • Concludes that agriculture will likely benefit from climate change mitigation as a result of the policies, while the financial costs and benefits from a cap and trade system will be negligible.

Study: No-till Farming Reduces Greenhouse Gas, Rick Callahan, THE WASHINGTON POST, Jan. 5, 2010.

  • An article providing a quick synopsis of a Purdue University study, which found a significant decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from no-till fields.
  • The Purdue study is published in the January-February issue of the Soil Science Society of America Journal.

The Role of Agriculture in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, John Horowitz & Jessica Gottlieb,  USDA, Econcomic Research Service (Sept. 2010).

  • Examines the possible contributions agriculture can make through carbon sequestration, reduced methane and nitrous oxide emissions, and increased renewalbe energy production.
  • Uses a comparision with existing conservation programs to examine the possible response from farmers to incentive- based policies for reducing green-house gas emsissions.

U.S. Agriculture & Climate Change Legislation: Markets, Myths & Opportunities, Jessica Shipley, et al., Pew Center on Global Climate Change,  July 20, 2010.

  • “This brief tries to objectively assess the impacts of climate legislation and identify ways that such legislation could be shaped to provide greater opportunities for the sector.”
  • Key Findings:
    • American farmers and industry will face greenhouse gas limitations regardless of what happens in the legislative and regulatory process.
    • Costs to farmers from GHG legislation can be substantially mitigated by costcontainment mechanisms.
    • The opportunities for farmers to realize a net economic gain from climate legislation are significant.
    • Climate change and resulting weather patterns pose numerous risk management concerns for agriculture.

Ecosytem Services

Ecosystem Services Markets from American Farmland Trust

  • This site provides additional information on a variety of environmental service markets, online tutorials and videos, and a downloadable “Guide to Environmental Markets for Farmers and Ranchers.”


Farm Energy Working Group at the University of Northern Iowa

  • Providing valuable information on energy conservation and on-farm energy production.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Biotechnology

Risks of Genetic Engineering, Union of Concerned Scientists (last revised 10/30/02).

  • Examines the risks of using GMOs in agriculture on human health and the environment.

Water Quality

Hypoxia In the Gulf: Addressing Agriculture’s Contribution, by Marc Ribaudo, AMBER WAVES at 36 (July 2007).

  • Briefly describes the causes and effects of hypoxia.
  • Discusses the benefits and drawbacks of two solutions: 1) reducing the amount of nitrogen applied to agricultural lands; 2) intercepting the nitrogen applied to agricultural lands through the use of wetland environments.

U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1350, The Quality of Our Nation’s waters—Nutrients in the Nation’s Streams and Groundwater, 1992–2004 (2010).

  • “Findings describe nutrient occurrence, key sources of nutrients, potential effects on humans and aquatic life, and changes in concentrations since the early 1990s. Results show that excessive nutrient enrichment is a widespread cause of ecological degradation in streams and that nitrate contamination of groundwater used for drinking water, particularly in shallow domestic wells in agricultural areas, is a continuing human-health concern. Despite major Federal, State, and local efforts to control point and non-point sources and transport of nutrients, concentrations of nutrients have remained the same or increased in many streams and aquifers across the Nation since the early 1990s.”