Environmental sustainability at the center of economist’s new University of Arkansas

U of A System Division of Ag photo by Fred Miller

Agricultural economist Lawson Connor joined the Agricultural System Division at the University of Arkansas in April.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A shift in thinking about on-farm environmental sustainability as a long-term risk mitigation factor is occurring in the agricultural economy.

Lawson Connor, assistant professor of agricultural economics and agribusiness at the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas, works to quantify the economic effects of sustainability practices such as cover crops and water conservation tactics. These results could then be translated into economic decision-making tools for farmers.

“We focus on isolating the benefits of sustainability so farmers can quantify them for their operation,” Connor said.

John Anderson, head of the agricultural and agrifood economics department, said Connor’s work will help farmers identify practices that provide benefits in terms of sustainability and profitability. The information is also “essential for policy makers as they attempt to develop policy tools to effectively satisfy a wide range of stakeholder interests in the agriculture and food sector,” Anderson added.

Connor said the federal government’s incentives for mainstreaming sustainability practices are “minimal” and many are targeting first-time adoption of practices. Additionally, many farmers have been hesitant to adopt more environmentally friendly practices in their operations, if improved yields are the primary benefit, as they are already seeing good yields.

“That’s why we try to think about it from a risk mitigation perspective,” Connor said. “We have to think of agriculture as a complete system, as part of the ecosystem and not as an industry in its own right. And we are seeing this more with global warming.”

The other piece of risk mitigation research deals with the supply chain side of the equation. Connor said they are doing a preliminary analysis to determine who is creating the demand and who will bear the cost of any additional expense of adding environmentally sustainable practices.

Connor and economists at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the University of Arkansas Agriculture System Division, are also working on a study funded by an Arkansas Corn and Grain grant. Sorghum Board to determine why the cost of crop insurance in the South is higher than in Midwestern states.

The US Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency sets crop insurance rates based on risks such as natural disasters and historical crop yields. Connor said his research has shown that crop insurance rates in southern states can be more than double rates in Midwestern states, depending on the county. With irrigation and more resilient row-crop varieties being developed by Southern University Experiment Stations, some farmers feel RMA’s methods place too much emphasis on outdated risk, Connor said.

About the researcher

Connor is from Antigua and joined the University of Arkansas in January after serving as an assistant professor at Louisiana State University Ag Center for more than three years. His research focuses on production economics, crop insurance and sustainable agriculture. In addition to working in research, he will also conduct outreach with the Cooperative Extension Service and teach a graduate-level agricultural economics course. He received his Ph.D. in economics from North Carolina State University in Raleigh in 2017 and conducted postdoctoral research at The Ohio State University.

“Dr. Connor’s work produces valuable information for farmers, landowners, supply chain managers and policy makers,” Anderson said. “It provides insight into the practical, relevant, and real-world implications of sustainability initiatives that are too often discussed only in broad generalizations. We are fortunate to have Dr. Connor here to help make the University of the ‘Arkansas a leader in this important line of work.’

To learn more about Agriculture Division research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: aaes.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch.

To learn more about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @AR_Extension.

To learn more about the Agriculture Division, visit uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.

About the Agriculture Division: The mission of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture System is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research with the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the country’s historic land grant education system. The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities in the University of Arkansas system. It has offices in all 75 counties of Arkansas and faculty at five system campuses. The Agricultural System Division of the University of Arkansas offers all of its extension and research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin , religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.