Between Soil and Society


Between Soil and Society

Legislative History and Political Development of Farm Bill Conservation Policy

Jonathan Coppess

356 pages


May 2024


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May 2024


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May 2024


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About the Book

The United States spends approximately $5 billion each year on federal programs designed to conserve natural resources and address the environmental consequences of modern agricultural production. Like farm policy, agricultural conservation policy is rooted in the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal efforts of the 1930s. Farm conservation policy has waxed and waned since then, related to fluctuating economic and environmental concerns.

In Between Soil and Society Jonathan Coppess traces the history and development of U.S. conservation policy, especially as it compares to and interacts with the development of farm policy. By answering questions about the differences in political support and development for these similar policy regimes, with efforts to apply legal and political theory to understand the differences, Coppess considers the implications of climate change and lessons for future policy development. One of the few books to make sense of the legal and economic analysis of agricultural conservation policy, Between Soil and Society provides a window into larger issues of American politics, governance, and policy development.

Author Bio

Jonathan Coppess is an associate professor of agricultural policy and law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He previously served as chief counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, as well as administrator and deputy administrator for farm programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Coppess is the author of The Fault Lines of Farm Policy: A Legislative and Political History of the Farm Bill (Nebraska, 2018).


Between Soil and Society is based on deep research in congressional sources, current discussions of farm policy, and a huge secondary literature on the economics of agriculture, the evolution of farm policy, and the nature of congressional behavior. Jonathan Coppess’s understanding of farm policy since 1990 is especially impressive, and his ability to root this discussion in a larger historical context makes this book a first-rate work of scholarship. This is a major contribution to the literature on farm policy and on congressional behavior and the legislative process.”—David E. Hamilton, author of From New Day to New Deal: American Farm Policy from Hoover to Roosevelt, 1928–1933

Table of Contents

Part 1. Introduction
1. Of Farming, Conservation, and the Farm Bill: An Introduction
2. Of Congress and the Conservation Question: A Preliminary Discussion
Part 2. Dust Bowl Origins
3. Out of Dust, Sharecropping, and the Supreme Court: An Origin’s Backstory
4. Reform amid Ruin: Lessons from the 74th Congress
Part 3. The Soil Bank Saga
5. Out of Surplus and Policy Failure: The Rise of the Soil Bank
6. Southern Sabotage: The Swift Demise of the Soil Bank
Part 4. The Food Security Act of 1985
7. From Dust to Dust: The Seventies Interlude and Backstory
8. A New Foundation for Conservation Policy: The Food Security Act of 1985
Part 5. Modern Conservation Policy Developments
9. Modern Developments: Farm Bill Conservation Policy after 1985
10. Of Congress and the Conservation Question: A Working Theory and Closing Argument

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