Sustainable agriculture

Water Quality and Agriculture: Meeting the Policy Challenge


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March 2012
ISBN: 9789264168053

Improving water quality is consistently ranked as a top environmental concern in OECD public opinion surveys. The key challenge for policy makers in addressing water quality issues in agriculture is to reduce water pollution while encouraging higher water quality for recreational and other uses.

This book examines linking policies, farm management and water quality. It looks at recent trends and prospects for water pollution from agriculture and the implications of climate change. It assesses the costs and benefits of agriculture's impact on water systems, and presents case studies of policy experiences from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the Baltic region, France, the United Kingdom and the European Union in general.

Finally the report provides a set of recommendations for countries for meeting the challenge of improving agricultural water quality.

» Key messages and executive summary (pdf, 17 pages, 830 KB)

 Table of contents

Chapter 1.  Linking policies, farm management and water quality
- The challenge
- The Polluter-Pays Principle
- The policy mix and interactions affecting water quality in agriculture
- Farm management practices and hydrological properties and processes
- Challenges in the interaction between farm management practices and water quality

Chapter 2. Agriculture and water quality: Sources, trends, outlook and monitoring
- Sources of water pollution from agriculture
- The contribution of agriculture as a source of water pollution
- Overall trends of the impacts of agriculture on water quality
- Medium-term outlook and implications of climate change
- Issues related to monitoring water quality in agriculture important  for policy makers

Chapter 3. Monetary costs and benefits of agriculture’s impact on water systems
- Key components in measuring the costs and benefits of agriculture on water quality
- Information needs to provide monetary cost and benefit estimates
- A survey of OECD countries’ impact estimates
- Further research

Chapter 4. OECD policy instruments and mixes addressing water quality issues in agriculture
- Economic instruments
- Environmental regulations
- Information instruments and other persuasive approaches to address water pollution

Chapter 5. OECD policy experiences in addressing water quality issues in agriculture
- Addressing nitrate water pollution from agriculture in the European Union
- Lowering pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, United States:  The role of agriculture
- Reducing salinity in agriculture to improve water quality: The case of Australia
- Implementing water quality trading for nitrogen pollution in Lake Taupo, New Zealand
- Improving research on diffuse source water pollution: France and the United Kingdom
- Reforming governance to address social concerns with water quality in New Zealand
- Addressing transborder pollution: The Baltic Sea, eutrophication and agriculture
- Establishing co-operative agreements to address diffuse source pollution

Chapter 6. Moving towards sustainable water quality management in agriculture
- Policy challenges
- Policy responses
- Policy reforms
- Policy governance and institutions 


 Background reports

Water Quality and Agriculture: Meeting the Policy Challenge is supported by the following reports which are free to access and download in PDF format:


 How to obtain this publication

To read Water Quality and Agriculture: Meeting the Policy Challenge:


 Further information



  • For queries relating to OECD work on water, write to
  • For queries relating to OECD work on agriculture, write to the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate at