Congressional Research Service


Date of this Version



CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES ~ Office of Technology Assessment Washington, D. C. 20510


This Nation's impressive agricultural success is the product of many factors: abundant resources of land and water, a favorable climate, and a history of resourceful farmers and technological innovation. We meet not only our own needs but supply a substantial portion of the agricultural products used elsewhere in the world. As demand increases, so must agricultural productivity. Part of the necessary growth may come from farming additional acreage. But most of the increase will depend on intensifying production with improved agricultural technologies. The question is, however, whether farmland and rangeland resources can sustain such intensive use.

Land is a renewable resource, though one that is highly susceptible to degradation by erosion, salinization, compaction, ground water depletion, and other processes. When such processes are not adequately managed, land productivity can be mined like a nonrenewable resource. But this need not occur. For most agriculturalland, various conservation options are available. Traditionally, however, farmers and ranchers have viewed many of the conservation technologies as uneconomical. Must conservation and production always be opposed, or can technology be used to help meet both goals?

This report describes the major processes degrading land productivity, assesses whether productivity is sustainable using current agricultural technologies, reviews a range of new technologies with potentials to maintain productivity and profitability simultaneously, and presents a series of options for congressional consideration. The study was requested by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and endorsed by the House Agriculture Committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Subcommittee on Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Advisory Panel:

David Pimentel, Chairman Department of Entomology, Cornell University Delmar Akerlund Akerlund Farm Biological Enterprises Valley, Nebr. Steve Brunson National Association of Conservation Districts William Dietrich Green Giant Co. James V. Drew School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management and Agricultural Experiment Station University of Alaska George R. Hawkes Product Environmental Affairs Ortho-Chevron Chemical Co. Earl O. Heady Department of Economics Iowa State University John H. Herman Attorney at Law Dayton, Herman, Graham & Getts Maureen K. Hinkle National Audubon Society William H. Hinton Farmer Fleetwood, Pa. iv Garry D. McKenzie Division of Polar Programs National Science Foundation William R. Meiners Resource Planning and Management Associates, Inc. Meridian, Idaho John Moland, Jr. Center for Social Research Southern University Richard E. Rominger Department of Food and Agriculture State of California Edwin L. Schmidt Department of Soil Science University of Minnesota F. C. Stickler Product and Market Planning Deere & Co. Glover B. Triplett, Jr. Department of Agronomy Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center Ralph Wong Rancher Marana, Ariz.