We evaluated possible changes to current farming practices in two Minnesota watersheds to provide insight into how farm policy might affect environmental, social, and economic outcomes. Watershed residents helped develop four scenarios to evaluate alternative future trends in agricultural management and to project potential economic and environmental outcomes. We found that environmental and economic benefits can be attained through changes in agricultural land management without increasing public costs. The magnitude of these benefits depends on the magnitude of changes to agricultural practices. Environmental benefits include improved water quality, healthier fish, increased carbon sequestration, and decreased greenhouse gas emissions, while economic benefits include social capital formation, greater farm profitability, and avoided costs. Policy transitions that emphasize functions of agriculture in addition to food production are crucial for creating change. We suggest that redirecting farm payments by using alternative incentives could lead to substantial environmental changes at little or no extra cost to the taxpayer.
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