Conditions for ecologically rational agriculture the United States, Brazil, and New Zealand: A comparative analysis of policy incentives and barriers across three regions
In this study we examine the institutional environment for ecologically rational agriculture in the United States, Brazil, and New Zealand, by undertaking a thorough review of all existing agricultural, environmental, labor, food safety, and energy policies relevant for agricultural management in these three countries. In particular we ask whether or not the overall policy context is enabling or inhibitory of sustainable agriculture and which policies are likely to have the most enabling or inhibitory influence on sustaianble agriculture. We apply theories regarding incentives and accessfrom agricultural economics and rural sociology to hypothesize the potential impact of these policies on farmer behavior. We then supplement our national level comparative policy analysis with 100 semi-structured interviews with farmers and local experts across three case study regions California (US), Mato Grosso (Brazil), and Hawke’s Bay (New Zealand).
We find that the institutional environment surrounding agricultural production in the United States is the most ecologically irrational among our three study regions. In particular, federal rules tend to hamper more localized policies and market conditions that should support sustainable agriculture. For example, new policies in California aim to reduce nitrogen pollution and water consumption from farms and promote fair labor practices, but national price supports, insurance programs, and food safety rules disproportionately advantage specialized commodity production and restrict the use of organic nitrogen sources. In contrast, Brazil has an extremely conducive environment for sustainable agriculture, which comes as a surprise since it has received large amounts of negative attention regarding the environmental impacts of agriculture in recent years. In this region, land cover change is becoming increasingly prohibited and there are few supports or protections for specialized commodity production. Instead, forest restoration, integrated crop-livestock-forestry systems, and agroecology are becoming more accessible through the expansion of low interest loans for low carbon agriculture and new research on holistic management systems. New Zealand sits somewhere in the middle as a simultaneous hotbed of innovation in sustainable intensification, but a huge source of per capita agricultural emissions. The use of integrated crop and livestock systems persist in this region as the result of a national institutional context that neither supports nor inhibits sustainable agriculture. However, state level irrigation policies threaten to offset the neutral federal policy environment creating new incentives for unsustainable water use.