Project – 7 – A Performance-Based Approach to Agri-Environmental Policy in Canada: Development and Comparative Assessment

  • Location: University of Saskatchewan
  • Research Team: Dr. Ken Belcher, Dr. Mike Quinn and Julia Baird
  • Duration: December 2009 – March 2011

Brief Project Description/Overview:
Public awareness of the effects of agriculture on the environment is increasing. To date, government and environmental agency programs have focused on providing financial and technical incentives, such as cost-share payments, to farmers to encourage the adoption of conservation management, including beneficial management practices (BMPs). These payments do not discriminate between farmers who have a large impact on the environment and those that have little impact. Consequently, some incentive payments may not result in environmental improvement. The objective of this research is to evaluate the potential to use measures other than practice based incentive payments for environmental programs for agriculture.

Methods: The main data collection method for this research will be interviews and surveys. Agricultural producers in the southern Alberta watersheds of Indianfarm Creek, Battersea Drain and Whelp Creek will be questioned in-person about their experiences with previous environmental programs and how they view their responsibility for environmental sustainability. These watersheds were chosen for their representativeness of the various agricultural activities in Alberta and because biophysical data has been collected by Alberta Agriculture for a current study quantifying the impacts of BMPs. The focus of the consequent policy development, however, will focus on Indianfarm Creek watershed. For this reason, stakeholder organizations in the Indianfarm creek watershed will also be interviewed so that all direct stakeholders are represented. In addition, rural and urban residents living beyond Indianfarm Creek watershed will be included in a mail survey to assess the viewpoint of the wider public regarding agricultural producers’ and the public’s responsibility for the environment. The responses to these interviews and surveys will be aggregated and evaluated to get an overall sense of the perspective of agricultural producers and the public concerning the responsibility for the environment on agricultural land.

Agri-environmental performance-based policy instruments used in Canada and other jurisdictions will be evaluated for their effectiveness and acceptability in the target watershed based on the respondents’ views. In particular, targeting payments to particular practices and locations that have the most potential for improvement will be investigated. The ‘new’ policy options will then be compared, using multi-criteria analysis, to the current incentive payment schemes for their respective environmental, social and economic benefits to the study area and beyond. The results from this analysis will be used to inform the development of effective agri-environmental policy.

Projected application of research: There has been increasing interest in alternatives to practice-based incentive payments and this research will investigate the social acceptability and potential environmental, social and economic implications of alternatives. In addition, the research will include stakeholders in the decision-making process; another recent area of interest in environmental policy. Governments may use this information to inform their methods for developing environmental policies and environmental non-governmental organizations may use this research to implement local initiatives within watersheds. At a broader level, this research contributes to the literature on the use of performance-based measures for environmental policy and also to the literature on stakeholder involvement in environmental program development for agriculture.