Land tenure, agri-environmental policy, and conservation practice use in Iowa
This dissertation broadly looks at farmers' use of agricultural practices that affect water quality in Iowa. Primary themes across these three studies include (1) farmers' willingness to use conservation practices that can improve soil health and water quality, (2) the effects of agri-environmental policy on adoption of conservation practices, and (3) the effects of land tenure on farmers' use of inputs and conservation practices.
Chapter 2 examines whether cost-share programs – which pay farmers to use a specific conservation practice – have had the desired effect of increasing cover-crop use in Iowa. Using a matching estimator, I conclude that cost-share recipients plant cover crops on an additional 15% of their farmland than they would have in absence of payment.
In chapter 3, I study how landowner characteristics affect the use of conservation practices. The chapter focuses on whether leasing versus operating owned farmland decreases the use of conservation practices. I find that cover crops, buffer strips, and ponds/sediment basins are used at lower rates on rented farmland than on owner-operated farmland. However, no-till is used at a higher rate on rented farmland compared to owner-operated farmland. I also find that non-operator landowners have practices on their farmland at lesser rates than do landowners who currently farm.
Chapter 4 uses data envelopment analysis and a panel of farms to estimate an efficient input-output frontier for corn production and calculate farms' efficiencies. I then evaluate how productivity has changed over time and whether efficiency differs by farm size and land tenure. Technical efficiency increased between the first half of the period (2011-2014) and the second (2015-2018). Additionally, I find that larger farms are more technically efficient than smaller farms, and fully rented farms more technically efficient than fully owner-operated farms.