Agricultural Policy and the Environment by Roger E. Meiners

By Roger E. Meiners

This ebook pulls again the wrappings that cloak U.S. agriculture and explains how and why politics has affected the conventional stewardship position performed through agriculture.

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Each of these institutions has advantages and disadvantages for agricultural producers and for society as a whole. In this chapter we survey some of the examples of private and public institutions used to resolve some of the commons problems in agriculture. Much as Bruce Yandle and Sean Blacklocke conclude in their chapter about the current issue of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), we conclude that a range of creative collective private solutions to commons problems was derailed more than a century ago, forcing agricultural decision makers into the more restrictive world of individual private or public solutions.

There are so many wheat farmers and so many wheat buyers that no one buyer or seller can affect wheat prices. The atomistic nature of the industry eliminates problems that are alleged to arise from small numbers, such as oligopoly, and is evidence of how well markets work with strong property rights in place. The prevalence of subsidy schemes and federal market orders in many agricultural markets means that the prices that emerge are not free market prices. Numerous public choice issues arise involving rent seeking Chupter 2 22 (McChesney 1997).

Private, individual action requires the ability to exclude at least enough others from the land to allow the actor to capture the benefits of the investment in solving the problem. Barbed wire enabled ranchers to exclude others; Texas law enabled ranchers there to acquire sufficient property rights to be able to solve the commons problems with fence. Cattlemen on the northern plains were not so fortunate, as public land holdings and parcel size restrictions in the homestead laws blocked private ownership of large, contiguous tracts (Morriss 2001, 573-75).

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