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Cropping systems and conservation policy: the roles of agrichemical dealers and independent crop consultants.

Agricultural input supply dealers and crop consultants substantially shape farmers' fertilizer and pesticide management. In specific parts of the country it may not be an overstatement to say that information and technology transfer in agriculture is largely a privatized process. While the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) remains a primary information source for a limited number of farmers and plays a secondary role through activities such as Certified Pesticide Applicator training and occasional validation of private sector recommendations, it is the fertilizer and pesticide dealers and crop consultants who have consistent access to farmers and consequently exercise greater influence on cropping systems (Content and Young; Center for Agricultural Business). These private sector firms contribute to, constrain, and in some production systems define the sophistication of farmer's management and rates and accuracy of adoption of practices such as those associated with Integrated Crop Management (ICM) and Site-Specific Agriculture (SSA).

Agroenvironmental policy and management initiatives as well as academic analysis of agriculture have until quite recently insufficiently accounted for the influence of dealers and consultants in farming systems. While these relationships are complex and not well understood (Zilberman et al.), there is growing recognition that these private sector firms play a major role in determining the environmental performance of cropping systems (Korsching et al.; Gannon and Ginder; Ginder; Hoffman; Wolf and Nowak, 1994a, 1995b; Zilberman et al.). This influence manifests itself through a two step process; first through defining the quantity and quality of analytic and diagnostic services that will be delivered to farmers such as soil testing and pest scouting; and second through development and often implementation of field-level fertilizer and pesticide use recommendations. The rigor and sophistication with which data are collected, synthesized and applied in conjunction with the scale at which these processes occur determine fertilizer and pesticide use efficiencies on many crop acres.

In the context of an industrializing agriculture (Butter et al.; Friedland et al.) the level of integration between these off-farm firms and producers will likely expand (Goodman; Wolf and Wood). Additionally, the influence of these firms over rates and geographic patterns of adoption of emerging technologies is expected to increase. While a wide variety of private sector actors including lending institutions and food processing companies (Zilberman et al.) have been shown to influence field-level fertilizer and pesticide behaviors, this paper focuses on input supply dealers and independent crop consultants. That is those firms whose primary business is supporting agricultural producers through provision of crop inputs, product recommendations and/or production related services. Independent crop consultants provide services and information for a fee and, unlike dealer-based consultants, have no connection to product sales.

The research underlying this commentary was funded by the Soil and Water Conservation Society and the USEPA in order to document current and emerging roles of private sector firms and public sector institutions in producers' field-level fertilizer and pesticide management; evaluate the level of analytic rigor (i.e., data richness) associated with fertilizer and pesticide use recommendations from dealers, consultants, and CES; and examine the role of market competition in mediating quantity and quality of analytic and diagnostic information-based fertilizer and pesticide management services. It is hypothesized that competition among and between dealers and consultants will increase the number and type of services available to producers, increase the percentage of producers with access to services, and raise standards of quality that define services.

During the fall of 1994, a total of 122 semi-structured interviews (Fowler and Mangione) were conducted with farmers, agrichemical dealers, agrichemical wholesalers/distributors, dealer-based crop consultants, independent crop consultants, CES personnel, Soil Conservation Service (SCS) personnel, and other public sector research and technology transfer specialists. These interviews were conducted in six U.S. counties, in three states; a midwestern state (corn-soybeans); a Mississippi delta state (cotton-soybeans-rice); and a mid-Atlantic state (corn-wheat-soybeans). Selection of states, production regions, and interview respondents supported comparative case study analysis (Yin) across commodities and production regions; levels of competition in input supply markets; and producers' principal source(s) of fertilizer and pesticide use recommendations. It should be noted that producers rarely relied solely on a single recommendation outlet. It is clear that the strength of relationships between producers and off-farm sources of recommendations should be conceptualized as a continuous rather than categorical variable.

In this commentary, data specific to individual producers, firms, and communities will not be presented. Here, the focus is on policy implications of the research. A detailed presentation of the methodology and data will be included in the author's forthcoming dissertation (S. Wolf, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Institute for Environmental Studies). This commentary seeks to relate developments within the agricultural input supply sector, crop consulting industry, and public farm service agencies to questions associated with contemporary agroenvironmental policy. Following this introductory section, salient agroenvironmental policy issues are reviewed and a set of policy recommendations are offered.

Policy context

This SWCS study was designed to evaluate environmental implications of increasing private sector influence in cropping systems. In more specific terms, this study addresses anticipated questions associated with implementation of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), reauthorization of the Clean Water Act, and the design of the 1995 farm bill. It is worthwhile to note that this research is occurring at a time when government is downsizing, functions previously pursued by public sector institutions are becoming private sector responsibilities, and market forces, rather than "carrots and sticks" are regarded as favored policy tools.

At this time there is substantial interest in integrating a more inclusive set of environmental performance objectives into agricultural policy than those included in the 1985 and 1990 farm bills. These earlier programs-cross compliance and the original incarnation of the Conservation Reserve Program, for example-were focused primarily on soil erosion and secondarily on water quality and wetlands. As exemplified by the incorporation of the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) into post 1990 CRP sign-ups and contemporary policy proposals (for examples see Sorenson; Lynch; Lynch and Smith), the resource conservation agenda has seen expansion and new priorities. The broader, updated conservation agenda is a result of better understanding of agroecosystem processes (NRC), the emergence of interdisciplinary research, and recognition of the viability of the disciplines of conservation biology and landscape ecology. The scientific rationale for change in the conservation agenda is also wedded to the need for a diverse coalition to leverage political support for environmental provisions. Conservation priorities now include issues such as soil quality, groundwater recharge zones, endangered species habitat, and riparian corridors among others.

More important in terms of the substance of this paper, recognition of the fundamental benefits of pollution prevention has made integrated crop management (ICM) and site specific agriculture (SSA) central concepts in agroenvironmental management and policy proposals (NRC; Lynch; Lynch and Smith; Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Browner). ICM (Osborne et al.) and SSA (Robert et al.) as used here refer to processes which seek to "increase the nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation use efficiencies in farming systems" (NRC, p.4). By applying tests of economic rationality to fertilizer and pesticide management decisions at increasingly fine scale, it is possible to minimize wastes.(1) ICM and SSA are related concepts, in that they both represent an opportunity to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of excessive fertilizer and pesticide use, and raise net farm income by insuring that investments in inputs add value to the crop. The synthesis of objectives represented by the two approaches, personal economic benefits for the practitioner combined with social benefits in the form of environmental protection, is a common central theme within increasingly popular waste minimization/pollution prevention environmental management strategies (Gore; USEPA). Other factors common to pollution prevention approaches include market processes, private sector involvement, process orientation, sensitivity to existing practices and institutional relations, and emphasis on information and management (Hawker).

Factors indicating that dealers and consultants are well positioned to support and accelerate adoption of more environmentally friendly cropping practices include a geographically diffuse infrastructure which supports rapid dissemination of locally attuned information; proven access to farm decisions (Content and Young; Center for Agricultural Business); popularity of custom application of fertilizer and pesticides because of economic, liability and health concerns; and existing and emerging positions as suppliers of information-based agrichemical management services. The actions of these firms will substantially define the percentage of acres on which ICM and SSA are applied and, perhaps more importantly, the quality or intensity of ICM and SSA.

Market failure, situations where prices of goods and services fail to include third party costs and benefits, has significantly retarded adoption of these practices up to the present (Bennett). However, recent developments within farming systems indicate that adoption rates are likely to rise in the near future. The bulk of this increase is expected to occur through dealers' and consultants' delivery of ICM and SSA services to producers. It is important to note that the impetus for development, delivery and application of these services is only partially attributable to farm level demand. Changes in the structure of agriculture, increased competition in crop input supply markets, greater visibility of crop consultants, new technologies, policy modifications, and changes within agroecosystems (e.g., pesticide resistance) are largely responsible for expected increases in field level adoption of ICM and SSA practices.

In sum, the policy context can be characterized by three general features. First, there is a more holistic view of the relations between agriculture and the environment. Policy will no longer support narrow technical fixes, but instead must address the complexities of a system. Second, production agriculture will be increasingly characterized by practices and technologies that increase the correlation between agroecosystem variation and management. Third, fiscal constraints and popular perspectives on the role of government indicate a shrinking public sector. At issue is the extent to which the concepts and proposals found in the current agroenvironmental policy debate are consistent with these features.

Whole farm planning

The Green Support Program (GSP) and similar proposals would make income-support payments available to eligible farmers willing to adhere to a cooperatively developed, integrated resource management plan (Lynch and Smith; Lynch; Sorenson). GSP plans would be designed to improve the efficiency of nutrient and pesticide use in farming systems as well as achieve other environmental objectives (Batie). The concept behind GSP is important to this paper because GSP-type proposals are key elements of the current agroenvironmental policy debate, and private sector firms are potentially valuable partners in programs involving nutrient, pesticide or whole farm planning. Implementation of a program of farm planning is particularly salient due to the passage of the CZMA. The CZMA, which has not yet been implemented, mandates nutrient and pesticide management through plans under certain conditions in coastal regions. The current timetable demands that decisions be made shortly about who is authorized to write management plan, and what will be stipulated in plans.

Environmental management strategic based on plans are predicated on the as gumption that recommendations in plan will be adopted by producers. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support the assumption that public sector-centered plans generate expected environmental benefits. This deficiency has been demonstrated by analysis of cross compliance (Cook and Art; SWCS) and traditional soil conservation plans (Nowak 1987). Support for this public sector planning strategy persists, despite the poor track record of potential lead agencies coupled with a period of downsizing within these same agencies. Efforts to retain a public agency centered approach also seems contrary to trends toward deregulation, privatization and property rights reform. More importantly, government developed plans seems contrary to substantial growth in private sector ICM and SSA service development and delivery. While agencies' motivations for championing resource management planning are partly an unwillingness to cede "turf" (Skees) and a strategic effort protect future agency survival, there are also legitimate concerns regarding leaving the "fox to guard the hen house."

Skees (1995) in a recent discussion of the relative merits of various public agencies potentially capable of providing leadership to a whole farm planning program, indicates significant problems with all candidates. Skees' concerns stem from shortcomings in the agencies' "personalities" and problems with the agencies' institutional legacies. While recent reorganization of USDA, including the incorporation of SCS into the newly formed NRCS, represents a commitment to address both the interdisciplinary character of contemporary resource management and the bureaucratic nature of recent programs, there are significant technical and logistical constraints to a government-run program of whole-farm planning, regardless of whether it is run by USDA or some other state or federal agency.

Data coordination and analysis require meets associated with whole farm planning are substantial, even if, as has beer suggested, plans are written for only a targeted segment of the nation's farms. The complexity of balancing risks to ground water, surface water, soil quality and wildlife, along with farm profitability, labor resources, managerial capabilities and other germane, interconnected environmental and economic concerns shows that writing, implementing, and policing these plans would be a challenging task.

The Water Quality Incentives Program's (WQIP) Integrated Crop Management Practice (SP-53) attempts to integrate a privatized approach with a resource management planning approach. SP-53 provides annual payments for three years to producers who are willing to amend their cropping practices in accordance with an ICM plan. Both public and private sector personnel are authorized to write these plans. The program is designed to demonstrate the value of efficiency-enhancing practices to producers during the three year payment period and result in long-term adoption of ICM practices. While early performance of the program is reported to be largely mediocre (Dicks et al.; Osborne et al.; Kraft and Lant), slow and incomplete implementation of the program by USDA agencies may be partly responsible (L. Mansager, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, personal communication). WQIP should be recognized as a potential model for incorporating private sector crop advisors into agroenvironmental management programs.

From a program implementation perspective, the issue of agrichemical suppliers' and independent consultants' participation in federal programs was originally and indecisively addressed in the context of the WQIP (Peitscher). The original USDA program rules, which were later softened, prohibited firms that sold products (i.e., dealers) from writing WQIP plans without SCS oversight. In essence, these rules distinguished between independent crop consulting and dealer-based crop consulting. This distinction was based on concerns over conflicting interests. Similar to medical practitioners receiving compensation from pharmaceutical companies, there has been and continues to be controversy in agriculture regarding conflicting interests associated with firms making usage recommendation on products that they sell (Dysert). The issue of conflicting interests is a key concept driving the activities of farmers, dealers, consultants, environmental organizations, and policy makers (Holmberg). Vigorous competition in agricultural product and service markets is regarded as a potential means by which conflicting interests can be mitigated. Competitive situations are characterized by situations where farmers have access to multiple service outlets and, more importantly, markets reward quality and penalize those who make self serving recommendations.

Results of an earlier Wisconsin study (Wolf et al.; Ferber et al.) indicate that competition within agricultural input supply markets is unevenly distributed across the landscape and that dealers congregate where demand for crop inputs is highest (Figures 1 and 2).(2) The intensity of corn production was observed to be highly correlated with level of competition (one tailed pearson correlation = 0.63, significant at 0.01 level). Because corn accounts for roughly 76 percent of all commercial fertilizer and pesticide use in Wisconsin (WASS), the distribution of corn is used here as an indicator of fertilizer and pesticide product demand. Competition is defined here as the number of dealers active in an area, weighted by the aggregate fertilizer and pesticide sales of those firms.

These figures illustrate one of the central questions addressed within this SWCS research; what is the relation between market competition and quality or data richness of dealers' and consultants' ICM/SSA services? Data compiled from the one hundred and twenty two interviews across the three states confirm the earlier Wisconsin finding that in more intensively cropped regions competition between dealers is relatively higher. Additionally, independent consultants are found to be more active within relatively more competitive markets and intense production settings. Results also indicate that in relatively more competitive markets many dealers are allocating resources to service development and upgrading the capabilities and credentials of their staff. In some areas, entrance of dealers into service markets is pressuring consultants, and fueling innovation and changes by independent consultants. In other areas, dealers and consultants are not, at this time, in competition with one another. It is important to note that the development of a service orientation within segments of the input supply sector is occurring during a time of tremendous consolidation within the industry (Hoffman; Ginder). Firms that traditionally have played the role of wholesaler or distributor in regional markets are now aggressively pursuing retail sales. This vertical integration is forcing many smaller, unaffiliated fertilizer and pesticide retailers out of business.

The concerns raised in the preceding paragraphs address a single component--the need to increase input efficiency--within a larger set of policy objectives. Clearly there is and should be an important role for federal and state agencies in implementation of resource management policy. However, public agencies' capabilities with respect to whole farm planning must be questioned. Besides a poor record of plan implementation, the most glaring technical gap within public sector agencies is in the area of pest management. Three principle factors indicate that the private sector could play a valuable role within a whole farm planning program. First, the level of trust enjoyed and the influence exercised by dealers and consultants within many farming systems is far greater than that of public sector agencies (Content and Young; Center for Agricultural Business). Second, private sector firms are rapidly positioning themselves, at least within highly competitive areas, to participate in efforts to "increase the nutrient, pesticide, and irrigation use efficiencies in farming systems" (NRC, p.4). And, third, potential cost savings to the public may accrue through privatization.

Geographic distribution of private sector infrastructure

Based on the research findings stated above, production regions with less intense competition in input markets were observed to be generally less well served in terms of type and quality of pesticide and fertilizer management services. While market forces are expected to drive development and application of ICM and SSA services in areas of high competition, producers in areas of low competition are likely to not enjoy the same level of service.

The significance of uneven distribution of competition and ICM and SSA service capabilities is particularly important when analyzed in the context of environmental susceptibility. Competition is likely to be higher in well buffered production regions where soils and topographic features imply relatively low relative risk. Competition is likely to be lower in areas characterized by relatively higher erodibility and groundwater vulnerability indices. The implication of a hypothesized mismatch between geographic patterns of environmental susceptibility (Kellogg et al.; Heimlich) and service infrastructure is that the distributional pattern of where efficiency enhancing fertilizer and pesticide management practices are used may be poorly correlated with distributional patterns of environmental risk. At this time the spatial correlation between service infrastructure, cropping practices and environmental susceptibility has not been rigorously evaluated.

The policy relevance of these data lie in potential justification for targeting public-sector resources on the basis of both environmental risks (Kellogg et al.; Heimlich) and the geographic distribution of service capabilities. Characteristics of local service infrastructure, including competition indices and availability of certified consultants, may be useful in designing policy. Integration of competition and market forces into agroenvironmental policy should result in more effective and efficient management of public resources including specification of where whole farm plans should be developed.

Public sector ICM and SSA services

The previous paragraph provides a rationale for application of policy tools and allocation of public sector resources to provide services where private sector infrastructure is "underdeveloped." Some governmental activity founded in this logic has been criticized by the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants (NAICC).

"It is very tempting for Extension personnel and others to attempt to fill the gap where an insufficient number of consultants practice to meet grower demand. This 'gap filling' ranges in form from pilot programs to moonlighting by public personnel to actual public funding of staff `consulting' positions."

"Rather than encouraging development of private sector professionals, these efforts generally retard, even prevent, the development of a strong private sector, which could fill the need. Farmers become accustomed to free or subsidized services, and unwilling, in either the short or long term, to pay the true cost of private consulting (NAICC)."

A related criticism is that the quality of public sector initiated service programs is poor. There are anecdotal reports that some producers who participate in public-sector programs leave these programs with a negative perception of the value of consultants and ICM and SSA practices.

NAICC (1994) goes on to suggest that "programs and services should be designed to generate awareness or stimulate interest, not to provide service. Public sector dollars should not be used to directly compete with the private sector." These criticisms and recommendations warrant attention. Policies designed to accelerate adoption of ICM and SSA services must consider their impact on current as well as future markets. Information based cropping systems represent an important intersection between alternative agriculture, rural economic development and environmental objectives. It is important to capitalize on opportunities to contribute simultaneously to these objectives by fostering privatization in those situations where it is feasible and sensible.

Certification programs

Awarding and requiring credentials are one of the fundamental ways in which the public sector interacts with the private sector and consumers. Accreditation programs exist in most professions. These programs serve as symbols of quality in the marketplace and as a mechanism through which industries can police themselves and be policed by government. While states have long administered commercial and private pesticide certification programs that serve to regulate the purchase, sale, and application of restricted use pesticides, there has been substantial growth in private sector accreditation programs These programs are ostensibly designed to define minimum thresholds of competence of individuals who make pesticide and fertilizer use recommendations to growers.

In 1991, in an effort to raise the performance standards of the industry and to address the specter of potentially conflicting interests faced by individuals that consult on the use of products that they sell, the American Society of Agronomy, with the support of the pesticide and fertilizer industry, the USDA, and the EPA, initiated a voluntary professional certification program, the Certified Crop Advisor program (CCA). The CCA program consists of a national examination, a state examination, experiential requirements, adherence to a code of ethics, and a continuing education requirement. By incorporating a state component into the test, each state can tailor certification standards according to their characteristic farming systems and environmental risks.

The CCA program was, in part, a reaction to USDA's decision to confer significant autonomy to consultants considered to be independent of product sales while requiring substantial SCS oversight of WQIP management plans written by dealers. The development of the CCA program, the large number of individuals taking the examination, and the support from industry leaders for development of a service orientation within dealerships (Hoffman) is strong evidence that the agrichemical industry is positioning itself to justify its actions and capabilities in the face of mounting environmental criticism. It is also clear that the agrichemical industry is positioning itself to capitalize on what is expected to be a large and growing crop consulting market.

Also in 1991, NAICC founded the Certified Professional Crop Consultant (CPCC) program. CPCC requirements are similar in type to those of the CCA, but are more stringent. CPCC-Independent (CPCC-I) is a designation reserved for consultants who have no connection to product sales. Independent consultants benefit from the perception that they are free of any disincentives to cut purchased inputs since the consultants' compensation is not tied to product commissions.

Conflict of interest and expectations of future regulations are the major themes that emerge from analysis of these certification programs and their often friction-filled history (Peitscher; Holmberg). Dealers are attempting to define and promote standards of behavior for their industry, and consultants are attempting to preserve and advertise the concept that their recommendations are not influenced by the prospect of declining income from reduced product sales volumes. At this time, the certification system appears to have entered a stable, hierarchical configuration. The CCA program is the broadest category and represents the bottom of the pyramid. CPCC is the next highest level of certification, and at the top is CPCC-I. A variety of other certification programs are also meaningful in the context of this discussion (e.g., ARCPACS and Entomological Society of America).

As mentioned earlier, eligibility criteria need to be established under CZMA for identification of individuals authorized to write nutrient and pesticide management plans. At this time it is rumored that a minimum of a bachelors degree will be a threshold requirement under these rules. It has been suggested that the degree requirement will be waived for those individuals who hold CCA certification. Because many individuals who currently make crop management recommendations do not hold college degrees, the CCA provides a hedge against future program ineligibility. Additional motivation to pursue certification comes from liability insurance providers. Insurance underwriters offer discounted premiums to certified individuals (B. Thompson, Potash and Phosphate Institute, personal communication). These liability policies protect consultants against claims made on the basis of inappropriate recommendations. In the context of insurance coverage, certification is more than a symbol and has become a measurable asset.

The CCA program, the CPCC, and the other certification initiatives can be viewed as a case of strategic, proactive management and public relations. In the event regulatory proposals arise which seek greater accountability on the parts of those individuals and firms that supply fertilizer and/or pesticide use recommendations, dealers and consultants will be in a position to oppose such legislation on the grounds that certification programs serve to insure professionalism within the industry. In the event regulations are enacted which move agriculture towards "prescription farming" where producers' use of fertilizer and pesticides requires oversight by a certified individual, these same firms could argue that specific certification programs should be the licensing standard that defines eligibility for writing prescriptions. Experience with recently adopted Worker Protection Standards (WPS) illustrates this point. Consultants have argued that appropriately certified individuals should be exempt from laws that stipulate reentry periods into fields following pesticide applications (Lambert). In this situation, certification carries privileges and producers who do not have a relationship with a certified individual may be at a disadvantage in terms of scouting their fields. These events provide an example of the interface between policy, certification and the role of consultants in farming systems. The outcome of this interface will influence competitive advantages in consulting markets, relationships between dealerships and independent crop consultants, and the environmental performance of cropping systems.

Policy recommendations

Contemporary study of resource conservation adoption diffusion processes is perhaps best recognized for its inability to provide powerful explanations for why people farm they way they farm (Lockeretz; Nowak 1993). This has been a source of frustration for researchers, agribusiness, environmentalists, and policy makers. Adoption models generally conceptualize the resource manager as a semi-autonomous decision maker, constrained, and influenced by agroecological factors, farm firm characteristics, social psychological attributes, access to capital, market signals, policies, and information suppliers. Because ICM and SSA practices are, in many cases, a product of interaction between farmers and dealers and/or consultants, this model is inappropriate. The contemporary structure of agriculture and the roles occupied by dealers and consultants in farming systems indicate that a different academic and managerial approach is warranted. The affect of local infrastructure on farming practices must be recognized. Policies and programs designed to accelerate adoption of ICM and SSA practices must accurately target dealers, independent consultants, and farmers on the basis of local environmental and market characteristics.

Increasing availability of efficiency enhancing services, increasing standards of service quality and increasing credentials of dealers and consultants are, by-and-large, not occurring due to farm-level demand. Nor have these trends been created by regulations.(3) The maturation of fertilizer and pesticide supply markets, and attendant competition is largely responsible. New information based technologies have also contributed to these trends. While these developments have potentially positive implications for the environmental performance of cropping systems, there is potential for farmers' autonomy to be further compromised (Keeney; Wolf and Wood). Policies which seek to accelerate the integration of off-farm experts into farm level activities must be developed with an understanding of how these decisions affect both the structure of agriculture and the diversity in the production system.

Public-sector-generated farm plans represent well trodden ground. In analyzing pressed in this commentary, there are indications that public sector agencies are not technically capable of writing, let alone supporting implementation of whole farm plans on a universal or targeted basis. If plans are inevitable, dealers and consultants should be writing the majority of plans and supporting producers' implementation. The merits of WQIP and related plan-oriented policy proposals should be assessed, in part, according to impacts on local consulting markets and infrastructure.

In areas where private sector infrastructure is well developed and competition is high, there is evidence that dealers and independent consultants are capable of delivering ICM and SSA services to producers. In areas of low competition, especially if these areas are also more environmentally vulnerable, alternative strategies and delivery mechanisms will be necessary. For example, as is now the case in some lower competition areas, CES may service local needs by coordinating the activities of a private sector independent crop consultant and recruit and train new consultants. The role of the public sector with respect to ICM and SSA must be to raise awareness of the value of ICM and SSA techniques, support producers' ability to service their own needs through educational programming, provide an independent means of"triangulation" whereby producers can validate private sector recommendations, and stimulate development of a competitive service market in which quality is rewarded.

In order to reward quality, definitions or standards of what constitutes quality must be in place. Certification programs are a means to achieve this objective. To insure these programs function properly the rigor of these programs must be assessed and the standards must be enforced.

There is the potential for dealers to dominate independent consultants in local service markets by offering services as "loss leaders" and subsidizing service delivery through product sales. Independent consultants, unlike some dealers, have no choice but to charge the true cost of services. To remain viable in the context of dealers' entrance into consulting markets some independent consultants are entering into joint service delivery programs with dealers. These mergers take on a variety of forms including exclusive contracts, guaranteed referrals, and subcontracting. Depending on the nature of the specific arrangements, the independence of some consultants who enter into such relationships may be compromised. The role of policy should be to insure producers have access to multiple sources of recommendations that are independent from one another. By "independent from one another," I do not mean isolated. Cooperation and sharing of information between these local firms is an essential part of this process. The best way for policy to build and maintain competitive information and technology transfer markets is through developing standards of quality and communicating those standards to dealers, independent consultants, and producers.

[Figures 1 to 2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

(1) In some cases, input use will increase where more rigorous evaluation of field conditions leads to identification of under-fertilized acreage and pest outbreaks which exceed economic thresholds. In other cases, applications of fertilizer and pesticides likely to be unproductive will be identified, and avoided. On balance, enhancing the correlation between variance in agroecological parameters with variance in management is expected to yield net environmental benefits.

(2) Due to the nature of the Wisconsin study, independent crop consultants activities are not included in Figure 1. It is presumed that their inclusion would not significantly alter the general pattern with the possible exception of higher density in the Central Sands vegetable production region.

(3) The threat of regulation, however, may have influenced these developments.

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Steven Wolf University of Wisconsin-Madison, Institute for Environmental Studies, 420 Agriculture Hall, 1450 Linden Drive, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706. This study was funded by the Soil and Water Conservation Society under cooperative agreement with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (CR822762-01-0). The author would like to thank Pete Nowak for contributions to this manuscript, Don Ferber for preparation of the figures, and all of the individuals who agreed to be interviewed as part of this research.
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Author:Wolf, Steven
Publication:Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Date:May 1, 1995
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