A Recent Trend in Ecological Economic Research: Quantifying the Benefits and Costs of Improving Ecosystem Services

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Jha, Manoj
Gassman, Philip
Parcel, Joshua
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Feng, Hongli
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The Department of Economic Science was founded in 1898 to teach economic theory as a truth of industrial life, and was very much concerned with applying economics to business and industry, particularly agriculture. Between 1910 and 1967 it showed the growing influence of other social studies, such as sociology, history, and political science. Today it encompasses the majors of Agricultural Business (preparing for agricultural finance and management), Business Economics, and Economics (for advanced studies in business or economics or for careers in financing, management, insurance, etc).

The Department of Economic Science was founded in 1898 under the Division of Industrial Science (later College of Liberal Arts and Sciences); it became co-directed by the Division of Agriculture in 1919. In 1910 it became the Department of Economics and Political Science. In 1913 it became the Department of Applied Economics and Social Science; in 1924 it became the Department of Economics, History, and Sociology; in 1931 it became the Department of Economics and Sociology. In 1967 it became the Department of Economics, and in 2007 it became co-directed by the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Business.

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  • Department of Economic Science (1898–1910)
  • Department of Economics and Political Science (1910-1913)
  • Department of Applied Economics and Social Science (1913–1924)
  • Department of Economics, History and Sociology (1924–1931)
  • Department of Economics and Sociology (1931–1967)

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Center for Agricultural and Rural Development

The Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) conducts innovative public policy and economic research on agricultural, environmental, and food issues. CARD uniquely combines academic excellence with engagement and anticipatory thinking to inform and benefit society.

CARD researchers develop and apply economic theory, quantitative methods, and interdisciplinary approaches to create relevant knowledge. Communication efforts target state and federal policymakers; the research community; agricultural, food, and environmental groups; individual decision-makers; and international audiences.

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In recent years, there are two notable developments in the research of ecological economics. On the one hand, a tremendous amount of resources have been invested to preserve or improve ecosystem services we derive from natural resources. There is an increasing need for us to better quantify such services and assess their benefits against the investments that we have made. On the other hand, there are significant advancements in environmental modeling that can be used to facilitate the quantitative estimation of ecosystem services. In this study, we present an application that combines developments regarding both of these aspects.

Over the last two decades, the U.S. federal government spent billions of dollars annually on the conservation of cropland. Such expenditures were supplemented with sizable state and local government funding. However, our understanding is incomplete as to the impacts of these expenditures on the use of conservation practices and their environmental effectiveness. Expanded knowledge on these issues is greatly needed to support societal decisions as to how much more, if any, we must do to improve environmental quality to a desired level. In this article, we provide some insights into these issues by examining two broad questions: 1) What conservation practices are currently in place, what is their coverage, and what is the cost of these practices? 2) What have been the environmental impacts of the currently-installed conservation practices?

These two questions were examined both at the national level and, as an in-depth case study, at the state level for the state of Iowa. At the national level, information on government expenditures were gathered and previous literature was surveyed to provide an overview of what we know with regard to the two questions. At the state level, to address the first question, we collected data from various surveys, and from federal and state conservation program sources. A database for the costs and coverage of major conservation practices was developed. In order to answer the second question, the widely used Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) water quality model (Arnold et al., 1998; Arnold and Forher, 2005; Gassman et al., 2007) was employed to estimate the impacts of key conservation practices. The challenges and problems encountered in establishing accurate statewide cost estimates were discussed. The advantages and drawbacks of modeling were also identified to put our results in perspective.


This chapter is published as Feng, H., M. Jha, P.W. Gassman, and J.D. Parcel “A Recent Trend in Ecological Economic Research: Quantifying the Benefits and Costs of Improving Ecosystem Services.” In Ecological Economics Research Trends. 2007. Carolyn C. Pertsova (Ed), Nova Science Publishers, New York. Posted with permission.

Mon Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2007