Agriculture's Soil Conservation Programs Miss Full Potential in the Fight Against Soil Erosion

Gao ID: RCED-84-48 November 28, 1983

GAO reported on those aspects of the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) three major conservation programs which deal with soil erosion, including: (1) the seriousness of soil erosion; (2) USDA bases for allocating resources to, and measuring the results of, the programs; (3) possible changes that could improve the programs' effectiveness; and (4) USDA follow up on previous report recommendations.

USDA has estimated that about 6.5 billion tons of soil erode annually and that conservation programs are not keeping up with the problem. Data are not presently available to give a clear estimate of the consequences and costs of erosion or to enable allocations of resources to be made in such a way that federal conservation programs obtain the greatest benefit for the resources spent. USDA decisions for allocating resources to combat soil erosion have generally not been predicated on factors directly linked to minimizing erosion's harmful effects. USDA plans to modify its resource allocation approaches to base judgments on erosion abatement needs on the extent of soil displacement. It may be some time before USDA is able to obtain the optimum data needed on erosion's harmful effects and to allocate soil conservation resources on that basis. However, some improvements for more effective use of resources at local levels are possible in the near term. GAO found that some disagreement exists as to whether soil erosion could be substantially reduced through more widespread use of conservation tillage farming methods. Finally, GAO questioned the purposes of USDA cost sharing of conservation practices in certain situations, but found that USDA policy has been changed in this area to meet the specifications of a previous GAO report.


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