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Improved Cost Estimates for Agricultural Conservation Practices  Open Access

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 38(3): 539-551. (doi: 10.13031/aea.14677) @2022
Authors:   Mark Robert Deutschman, Sarah Koep
Keywords:   Benefits, Implementation, Life cycle, Planning, PTMApp, Useful life, Water quality.


Developed Useful Life Total Cost (ULTC) functions for 23 types of agricultural conservation practices.

Derived each cost function from multiple ULTC estimates bracketing a range of design variations and sizes for each agricultural conservation practice.

Developed Annual ULTC based on practice life cycle duration.

Compared Prioritize, Target, Measure Application costs to ULTC.

Recommend using ULTC rather than Prioritize, Target, Measure Application Environmental Quality Incentives Program payment as a cost surrogate.

Abstract. The cost to achieve water quality goals is an essential piece of information necessary for assessing whether the expected societal benefits are worthy of investment. Within the United States, taxes generate the “public money” to pay to improve water quality. State and Federal Agencies distribute the public‘s money to local governments and landowners as grants and cost-share to implement agricultural conservation practices (“practices”). Comparing the cost to improve water quality and the anticipated public benefit helps inform the investment decision.

The lack of a robust method for estimating the cost of practices and developing a Water Quality Strategy hampers the ability to compare cost and benefits. Within Minnesota and North Dakota, Water Quality Practitioners commonly use the Prioritize, Target, Measure Application (PTMApp) to develop strategies to improve water quality. PTMApp utilizes the Environmental Quality Incentives Program payment as a surrogate to estimate practice cost. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program payment is a percentage of the estimated cost to implement a typical practice scenario, excluding the labor to plan, design and permit the practice; inspect the practice during construction; operate and maintain the practice; finance costs; and in most cases forgone income.

We addressed the need for estimates of practice cost by developing Useful Life Total Costs (UTLCs) for 23 agricultural conservation practices. Useful Life Total Costs incurred throughout the practice life cycle begin with planning and end with reconstruction to maintain proper function. We developed multiple ULTCs (year 2020) for each practice by bracketing the range of design variations and sizes. Legacy PTMApp costs ranged from 1% to 55% of the UTLC, confirming underestimation of the actual practice costs.

Cost functions developed by selecting the best-fit line between the ULTCs and a predominant practice physical characteristic are useful for developing Water Quality Strategies. The cost functions, recently incorporated into PTMApp, considerably improve the ability to estimate the actual cost to achieve water quality goals and societal benefits.

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