Working on environmental and resource problems in agriculture led to an interest in how agricultural policies influence those problems.  Thus, my work in this area is closely related to my work onpesticides, water, nonpoint source pollution, and agricultural resource conservation.

Some research highlights in this area are:

Research Results


Bulte and van Soest (JDE 1999) argue that higher agricultural output prices result in greater soil conservation when labor markets function well but have ambiguous effects when labor markets are absent. The latter result is not attributable to labor market failure but rather occurs whenever labor supply is less than perfectly elastic. Consistent with the more general model presented here, empirical evidence from a number of developing countries suggests that well-functioning labor markets are associated with decreases in investment in soils.

Lichtenberg, Erik, "'A Note on Soil Depth, Failing Markets, and Agricultural Pricing': Comment", forthcoming in the Journal of Development Economics.

Maryland farmers' adoption of some best management practices is highly responsive to adoption costs, suggesting that cost sharing can induce substantial increases in adoption.  Several practices appear to be complements.

Lichtenberg, Erik, “Cost-Reponsiveness of Conservation Practice Adoption: A Revealed Preference Approach”, Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 29, 420-435 (December 2004).

The sustainability of agriculture and prospects for improving its environmental performance are inherently limited.  Agriculture's high degree of variability makes direct regulation inefficient.  Subsidies for improving environmental performance can have perverse consequences.  Pollution taxes are likely the most efficient and effective form of policy.  Interdisciplinary research is needed to provide models for performance evaluation.

Lichtenberg, Erik, “Some Hard Truths about Agriculture and the Environment”, Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 33, 24-33 (April 2004).

Subsidies for conservation on working farmland can worsen environmental problems by inducing farmers to expand the amount of land cultivated and by increasing cultivation intensity.

Lichtenberg, Erik, "Are Green Payments Good for the Environment?", Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 33, 138-147, (April 2004).

Prevention is not always more cost effective and precautionary than ex post treatment. A greater degree of precaution can result in less reliance on prevention. An empirical case study indicates that treatment alone is the most cost effective means of dealing with nitrate in most Maryland community water system wells. The incremental cost of precaution is substantial.

Lichtenberg, Erik and Tony M. Penn,  “Prevention versus Treatment Under Precautionary Regulation: A Case Study of Groundwater Contamination Under Uncertainty”, American Journal of Agricultural Economics 85, 44-58 (February 2003).

Policies for addressing environmental quality problems in agriculture have been adapted from agricultural resource conservation programs.  Modern agricultural technologies have partially eliminated the complementarity between resource conservation and farm profitability implicitly assumed in this approach.  Nevertheless, the evidence regarding the impacts of farm policies on environmental quality are not clear-cut.  Farm policies increase incentives to improve environmental quality in some cases and exacerbate environmental quality problems in other cases.

Lichtenberg, Erik, “Agriculture and the Environment”, in Bruce L. Gardner and Gordon C. Rausser (ed.), Handbook of Agricultural Economics. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2002.

It's not necessarily profitable for farmers to use more pesticides simply to improve appearance or other cosmetic aspects of fruit and vegetable quality.  Stricter quality standards don't necessarily induce more pesticide use.

Lichtenberg, Erik, “The Economics of Cosmetic Pesticide Use”, American Journal of Agricultural Economics 79, 39-46 (February 1997).

Pesticides aren't necessarily risk-reducing (as many economists have thought).  In some situations, pesticide use increases output variability, making them risk-increasing.  Consistent with this theory, corn growers in the U.S. Corn Belt who purchase crop insurance use more insecticides and more herbicides than those who don't.  

Horowitz, John K. and Erik Lichtenberg, "Risk-Reducing and Risk-Increasing Effects of Pesticides", Journal of Agricultural Economics 45, 82-89 (January 1994).

Horowitz, John K. and Erik Lichtenberg, "Crop Insurance and Agricultural Chemical Use", in Darrell L. Hueth and William H. Furtan (ed.), Economics of Agricultural Crop Insurance: Theory and Evidence. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishing, 1994.

Horowitz, John K. and Erik Lichtenberg, "Insurance, Moral Hazard and Chemical Use in Agriculture", American Journal of Agricultural Economics 75, 926-935 (November 1993).    

Water storage and commodity storage can be substitutes.

Just, Richard, Erik Lichtenberg and David Zilberman, “Partial versus General Storage Policy: Commodities and Resources”, Natural Resources Modeling 8, 273-292 (1995).

Farmers in the Northern High Plains tend to use center-pivot irrigation systems on low-quality land (sandy soils) that is more vulnerable to groundwater contamination.  Commodity price supports may exacerbate problems of groundwater quality and excessive depletion of groundwater stocks in fossil aquifers.

Just, Richard E., Erik Lichtenberg and David Zilberman, "Effects of the Feed Grain and Wheat Programs on Irrigation and Groundwater Depletion in Nebraska", in Richard E. Just and Nancy Bockstael (ed.), Commodity and Resource Policies in Agricultural Systems.  New York: Springer-Verlag, 1991.

Lichtenberg, Erik, "Land Quality, Irrigation Development and Cropping Patterns in the Northern High Plains", American Journal of Agricultural Economics 71, 187-194 (February 1989).

Pesticide regulation can benefit the agricultural economy by counteracting distortions introduced by farm subsidies.

Lichtenberg, Erik and David Zilberman, "The Welfare Economics of Price Supports in U.S. Agriculture", American Economic Review 76, 1135-1141 (December 1986).