OOS 29-9 - Policy opportunities for reducing nutrient losses from agriculture

Wednesday, August 10, 2011: 4:20 PM
12A, Austin Convention Center
Noel P. Gurwick, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, DC

In the context of the eight talks in this organized oral session that address the technical potential to reduce nutrient losses from agricultural ecosystems, I here synthesize available policy options for motivating adoption of these practices. A wide variety of actual and potential approaches exist that support or promote reduced nutrient losses from agricultural systems. They range from regulation to voluntary, with each of these categories encompassing a wide variety of programs. Although the common occurrence of unacceptable water quality in landscapes across the globe demonstrates the need for a more effective mix of approaches than has currently taken hold, synthesizing currently-used approaches provides insight about the available opportunities and gaps. Further, reflecting on the history of this suite of approaches illuminates our understanding of the direction and speed of progress in creating and implementing effective policies.


The wide range of approaches used to limit nutrient losses from agriculture suggests opportunities to improve nutrient management in the long-term, but in the U.S., achieving appropriate actions and coordination from the many actors involved will likely require decades. Incentive programs defined in the Farm Bill reduce nutrient losses from crop land, including land in production, and major shifts in farm bill subsidies could drive dramatic changes in nutrient management. In the livestock area, confined animal feed operations could be classified point sources, which would subject them to regulation. However, while regulation of agriculture-derived nutrients generally has been implemented effectively in the European Union, direct regulation of agriculture-derived nutrient losses from agriculture seems unlikely in the current U.S. political climate. Without regulation, nutrient trading also has limitations. Research in the Yaqui Valley revealed how farmers’ access to knowledge and resources can influence uptake of practices that reduce nutrient losses; development of this understanding and associated strategies can occur in the absence of regulation.  Finally, key players in supply chains are rewriting rules of production in many sectors, and these actors could drive nutrient management.

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