Current Activities

Land Use Change

ERS economist Ruben Lubowski recently delivered an address on “Determinants of Land-Use Change in the United States, 1982-1997” at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, CT, as part of an interdisciplinary lecture series sponsored by the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology. The series provides different perspectives on policies aimed at environmentally sustainable land development. Lubowski discussed the relative importance of different land-use determinants for the U.S. based on his econometric analysis of data from USDA’s National Resources Inventory (NRI).

Exemptions to Methyl Bromide Ban

ERS researchers Craig Osteen, Carmen Sandretto, and Margriet Caswell met with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Methyl Bromide Critical Use Exemption (CUE) Economics Review Team recently to discuss improvements in the CUE application form and review process. Exemptions can be made if there are no economically feasible alternatives to the use of methyl bromide. In deciding which applications to put forward to the parties of the Montreal Protocol, the U.S. can consider whether the lack of methyl bromide for a particular use would cause significant market disruption (see article in April 2003 Amber Waves). The ERS economists helped EPA review the first application for an exemption to the methyl bromide restriction last year. Applications from the first round of petitions are currently under consideration by the international Methyl Bromide Options Committee. The next round is due in August.

Tracking the History of Food Products

Traceability systems track the flow of food products through the supply chain. Such systems could be used to manage issues like bio-terrorism, country-of-origin labeling, Mad Cow disease, and genetically engineered foods. Is mandatory traceability a useful and appropriate policy choice? The answer partially depends on whether firms will voluntarily supply traceability data. ERS researchers are examining the rationale for and extent of tracing in the U.S. foodchain and assessing where mandatory traceability may be desirable.

Gauging Farmers’ Responses to New Farm Programs

The 2002 Farm Act introduced counter-cyclical payments, a new type of program that supports farm revenue for eight major field crops when prices are low. Unlike traditional price supports, payments are based on historical acreage and yields and not current production. ERS researchers are looking to see if counter-cyclical payments influence farmers' planting and production decisions and, if so, how and to what extent? Because counter-cyclical payments interact with other elements of agricultural programs, like direct payments, marketing loan benefits, and crop insurance, ERS is investigating these interactions as well.