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The provision of public goods by agriculture: Critical questions for effective and efficient policy making

June 2012

Henk J. Westhoek, Koen P. Overmars, Henk van Zeijts


The article argues that there are positive externalities associated with farming and agriculture that should be treated as public goods by the government. The article continues that things provided by farmers such as increased biodiversity in fields, clean water sources, scenic countryside views, and domestic food security are things the greater public benefits from but that without proper policy will diminish at a rate faster than efficient. The article continues to mention that methods for increasing the provision of these public goods need not be via subsidy, regulation or auction of rights can also be employed. The study also noted that increased need for efficiency could lead small farms to close down, however small farms are something that many communities consider valuable.

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Policy Implications

This article can be used in attempting to reach optimal levels of the public good provided by farmers and use of agricultural land. The article lays out a specific set of questions that should be asked on the subject such as what should be defined as an agricultural public good, how are the provision of these goods expected to change in the future, what are the demands for these goods in the population, what are the costs for providing more, and which policy method is best in doing so. The article suggests that a variety of methods like surveys, observations or government estimations can be used to try and determine the real benefit society receives from their provision.

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