Office of Research and Development Publications

Agricultural production and nutrient runoff in the Corn Belt: Assessing dynamic environmental performance

Citation:

Barnhart, B., M. Bostian, R. Fare, S. Grosskopf, G. Whittaker, E. Sinha, A. Michalak, AND M. Papenfus. Agricultural production and nutrient runoff in the Corn Belt: Assessing dynamic environmental performance. North American Productivity Workshop IX, Quebec City, CANADA, June 15 - 18, 2016.

Impact/Purpose:

This abstract is for the 2016 North American Productivity Workshop IX in Quebec City, Canada, June 15-18, 2016 where we will lead a workshop hosting economic scholars and practitioners who are interested in productivity and efficiency analysis. We will demonstrate how to use an environmental condition index to analyze the effect of spatial and temporal variability in environmental performance on optimizing agricultural production while minimizing nonpoint source nutrient pollution in aquatic environments. Our methods are intended to be useful for other economists to apply and analyze environmental performance in their own applications. Our results will be useful for identifying best management practices and policy in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. This work relates to RAP task SSWR3.04B: Linking measures of watershed integrity and stream condition to economic benefits analysis.

Description:

Agricultural production in the Corn Belt region of the Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB) remains a leading source of nitrogen runoff that contributes to the annual hypoxic 'Dead Zone' in the Gulf of Mexico. The rise of corn production, land conversion, and fertilizer use in response to ethanol policy incentives in recent years is well documented and may worsen this effect. We develop a spatially distributed dynamic environmental performance index (EPI), accounting for both desirable agricultural outputs and undesirable nonpoint source emissions from farm production, to examine the corresponding changes in environmental performance within the UMRB between 2002 and 2007, which is characterized by increasing policy incentives for ethanol production. County-level production data from the USDA agricultural census are aggregated to hydrologic unit code (HUC8) boundaries using a geographic information system (GIS), and a previously developed statistical model, which includes net anthropogenic nitrogen inputs (NANI) as well as precipitation and land use characteristics as inputs, is used to estimate annual nitrogen loadings delivered to streams from HUC8 watersheds. The EPI allows us to decompose performance of each HUC8 region over time into changes in productive efficiency and emissions efficiency. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the corresponding changes in environmental performance for producers in this region at the watershed scale. The results will be especially useful to target inefficient regions in the UMRB for implementation of best management practices to enhance efficient farm production while reducing nutrient loads to the Gulf of Mexico.

Record Details:

Record Type: DOCUMENT (PRESENTATION/ABSTRACT)
Product Published Date: 06/18/2016
Record Last Revised: 07/08/2016
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 321130

Organization:

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

NATIONAL HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS RESEARCH LABORATORY

WESTERN ECOLOGY DIVISION

ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS BRANCH