Saturday, June 24, 2017

Manure Economics

This summer I’ll be looking at the effects of manure use on water pollution. Manure is often used as a substitute for commercial fertilizer, but its impact on water phosphorus levels is somewhat unclear. In the literature on the subject thus far, manure use and relevant regulations have been shown both to increase and decrease pollution (depending on the assumptions and conditions of the study). Many are case-studies, meaning the results of which are of limited generalizability. To my knowledge, the project I’m undertaking will be the first empirical analysis of manure use’s relationship to water phosphorus levels using data from the U.S. Midwest.
      After looking at these effects, I will run some policy simulations to try to determine the optimal regulations for manure use in the area. The hope is for this paper to be published and noticed by policymakers who will use these results to make an informed decision on how to improve the quality of our water.

      Most people might be interested in the final results of this study and its policy implications, but I’m also interested in learning more about economic methodology. Econometrics is tricky and can yield contradictory results. Why, for example, can’t economists ever seem to agree on some questions like whether a higher minimum wage will increase or decrease unemployment? (A quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw goes something like this: “If all economists were laid end to end, they’d never reach a conclusion.”) I think the answer lies in the nuances of methodology, so learning more about how to make valid inferences from econometric analysis is a goal of mine for this project.
      Finally, I am interested in learning about what other students are doing (which, I think, will help improve my own project). I’ve been helping out the bio team this week and I hope in the future to tag along with either the sociology or anthropology group so I get a chance to talk to farmers about their fertilizer use. Having different perspectives on the science and social aspects of water pollution will help me think more effectively about possible policy options going forward.

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