I've worked on just about every aspect of pesticides and pest management that has a bearing on policy, from the field-level economics of choices among pest management technologies to society-level assessments of the costs of reducing risks from groundwater contamination and residues on foods to legal issues like compensation for the use of regulatory data.

Some research highlights in this area are:

Research Results


Pest control is essential for maintaining agricultural productivity, especially agricultural productivity sufficient to support contemporary standards of living.  Pest control itself is best conceptualized as a form of ecosystem management. “Harvesting” pest populations by applying toxic substances has proven to be an essential component of all effective pest management systems devised to date.  It remains important, however, to mitigate adverse effects of using those toxic substances on human health and the environment.  Moreover, it remains important to structure those applications of toxic substances so that they exploit complementarities provided by natural agro-ecosystem processes to the extent possible; doing so may have additional benefits in terms of reducing negative spillovers as well. 

Current forms of regulation attempt to limit adverse environmental and human health effects of pesticides by restricting availability to compounds with favorable risk-benefit balances and by limiting conditions of use.  Existing studies indicate that restrictions on the availability or use of individual compounds tend to have small overall effects on agricultural supply when comparable substitutes are available or when supply effects can be compensated for by regional or international shifts in production. The few studies that have examined restrictions on re-entry to farmworker safety suggest that those regulations can have unintended effects on pesticide use and on safety itself.  Topics that have yet to receive sufficient attention include the effects of pesticide regulation on innovation and the availability of new pest controls.

Lichtenberg, Erik, “Economics of Pesticide Use and Regulation”, in Jason Shogren (ed.), Encyclopedia of Energy, Natural Resource and Environmental Economics. Elsevier, forthcoming.

Criticisms of the Green Revolution have focused on environmental and human health problems associated with pesticides.  Pesticides may also have adverse effects on wild fish and other aquatic animals in rice paddies that supply an additional source of food and income for some farm households and provide natural pest control.  We use survey data from the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam to estimate the impact of pesticides on fish harvests from rice fields. The results confirm findings of ecological studies that pesticide use harms fish populations.  However, fish harvest losses are small enough that ignoring them is likely economically rational.

Klemick, Heather and Erik Lichtenberg, “Pesticide Use and Fish Harvests in Vietnamese Rice Agroecosystems”, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 90(1), 1-14 (February 2008).

Pest free status certification is desirable if the demand-side impacts (increased export revenue) and supply-side impacts (lower pest damage and decreased ongoing control costs) exceed the compliance monitoring and eradication costs. Eradication may be optimal even without certification. Certification is more likely for regions facing costly treatment requirements (bans) or possessing geographic traits that lower monitoring costs and infestation probabilities than those exporting higher valued products.  Certification benefits producers but hurts consumers, so political feasibility may be greater if domestic consumption is a small share of the market and if the additional tax burden of certification programs is light.

Lichtenberg, Erik and Lori Lynch, “Exotic Pests and Trade: When Is Pest-Free Status Certification Worthwhile?”, Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 35(1), 52-62 (April 2006).

It has been argued that only independent crop consultants provide unbiased scouting information while chemical dealers may inflate scouting reports and/or reduce economic thresholds in order to increase pesticide sales and farmers may use excessively low treatment thresholds due to risk aversion and/or overestimation of pest pressure. We find that Maryland soybean growers using extension trained scouts had significantly lower pesticide demand than those using chemical dealer employees or scouting themselves. However, we found no significant differences in the pesticide demands for alfalfa, corn, and small grains.

Lichtenberg, Erik and Ayesha Velderman Berlind, "Does It Matter Who Scouts?", forthcoming in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 30(2), August 2005.

Regulations affecting the use of spoilage reducing inputs like pesticides, growth regulators, chemical preservatives, and irradiation change intertemporal consumption patterns as well as total output. Consumers may benefit from restrictions on storage technology, giving them a reason to support regulation even when it may not be warranted to correct environmental externalities.

Lichtenberg, Erik and David Zilberman, “Storage Technology and the Environment”, Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 27, 146-164 (June 2002).

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.

The direct costs of meeting regulatory requirements for transgenic plants that express pesticidal proteins can be almost as high as the costs of breeding the transgenic genes into marketable varieties.  As a result, stricter regulation may be a significant barrier to small companies and public sector research.

Lichtenberg, Erik, “Costs of Regulating Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants”, in National Research Council, Genetically Modified Pest-Protected Plants: Science and Regulation. Washington: National Academy Press, 2000.  

On average, corn and soybean growers in the Mid-Atlantic report the same degrees of concern about environmental problems associated with pesticide use as the general public.  But farmers as a group seem more polarized in their attitudes than the general public.  These farmers are  willing to spend more on pesticides that won't leach into groundwater.  Growers who have experienced adverse health effects from pesticides (either directly or indirectly) have heightened concern about environmental and occupational safety problems arising from pesticide use and are more likely to use certain non-chemical control practices.   

Lichtenberg, Erik and Rae Zimmerman, “Information and Farmers’ Attitudes About Pesticides, Water Quality, and Related Environmental Effects”, Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment 73, 227-236 (1999).  

Lichtenberg, Erik and Rae Zimmerman, “Farmers’ Willingness to Pay for Groundwater Protection”, Water Resources Research 35, 833-841 (March 1999).

Lichtenberg, Erik and Rae Zimmerman, “Adverse Health Effects, Environmental Attitudes, and Pesticide Usage Behavior of Farm Operators” Risk Analysis 19, 189-211 (April 1999).  

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.

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

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).    

Regulations preventing farm workers from entering fields for a specified period of time after pesticides have been sprayed may be an incentive for farmers to spray preventively rather than reactively.  An empirical analysis of preharvest intervals in U.S. apple production suggests that current EPA regulations may not have been protective enough.  Also, flexible regulations that allow preharvest intervals to vary according to rainfall or other obervable indicators of risk can provide the same or greater levels of protection to farm workers at lower cost.

Lichtenberg, Erik, Robert C. Spear and David Zilberman, "The Economics of Re-Entry Regulation of Pesticides", American Journal of Agricultural Economics 75, 946-958 (November 1993).

Uncertainties associated with the prediction of economic effects of pesticide regulation are not as great as those associated with health or ecological risks.  Treating uncertainties about economic effects the same way that those associated with health risks have been would increase estimates of the costs of regulating pesticides dramatically.  In the U.S., the principal effect of pesticide regulation has often been to shift crop production from one region to another.  Since there are relatively few regions producing fruits and vegetables, these crops tend to be more heavily affected by pesticide regulation than major grain, oilseed, and fiber crops.

Lichtenberg, Erik, Douglas D. Parker, David Sunding, and David Zilberman, “Economics and Pesticide Regulation”, Choices, Fourth Quarter, 1997, 26-29.

Zilberman, David, Andrew Schmitz, Gary Casterline, Erik Lichtenberg and Jerome B. Siebert, "The Economics of Pesticide Use and Regulation", Science 253, 518-522 (2 August 1991).

Lichtenberg, Erik, Douglas D. Parker and David Zilberman, "Marginal Analysis of Welfare Effects of Environmental Policies:  The Case of Pesticide Regulation", American Journal of Agricultural Economics 70, 867-874 (November 1988).

Modeling pesticides as substances that prevent damage rather than enhance crop growth tends to produce lower estimates of pesticide productivity at the margin.  An additional advantage of this approach is that it generates implicit estimates of crop damage.  An application to aggregate U.S. data shows that this specification generates more plausible results than traditional specifications.

Chambers, Robert G. and Erik Lichtenberg, "Simple Econometrics of Pesticide Productivity", American Journal of Agricultural Economics 76, 407-418 (August, 1994).  

Babcock, Bruce A., Erik Lichtenberg and David Zilberman, "The Impacts of Damage Control on the Quantity and Quality of Output:  Estimating Pest Control Effectiveness", American Journal of Agricultural Economics 74,163-172 (February 1992).

Lichtenberg, Erik and David Zilberman, "The Econometrics of Damage Control:  Reply," American Journal of Agricultural Economics 71, 445-446 (May 1989).

Lichtenberg, Erik and David Zilberman, "The Econometrics of Damage Control:  Why Specification Matters", American Journal of Agricultural Economics 68, 261-273 (May 1986).  

Most environmental regulations require providing an adequate level of protection with a sufficient margin of safety against uncertainty.  A formal theoretical model of cost-effective regulation under this approach shows that some regulatory measures may be undertaken mainly to reduce uncertainty while others increase protection on average.  A higher the margin of safety increases the total cost of regulation but lowers the marginal cost.  An empirical study of pesticide contamination of drinking well water shows that the incremental cost of increasing the margin of safety can be quite high.  This approach can distort regulatory priorities by placing too much weight on low-risk, high-uncertainty problems (e.g., pesticide residues on foods) and too little on higher-risk, lower-uncertainty problems (e.g., farmworker safety).

Lichtenberg, Erik, "Conservatism in Risk Assessment and Food Safety Policy", in Julie A. Caswell (ed.), Economics of Food Safety.  New York: Elsevier, 1991.

Lichtenberg, Erik, "Risk Assessment, Economics and Chemicals in Food", Journal of Agribusiness 9, 25-38 (Spring 1991).

Lichtenberg, Erik, David Zilberman and Kenneth T. Bogen, "Regulating Environmental Health Risks Under Uncertainty:  Groundwater Contamination in California", Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 17, 22-34 (July 1989).  

Lichtenberg, Erik and David Zilberman, "Efficient Regulation of Environmental Health Risks", Quarterly Journal of Economics 49, 167-178 (February 1988).

An integrated control program of stocking rice fields with fish that eat mosquito larvae is less costly and involves lower pesticide applications than a chemical-only control program.

Lichtenberg, Erik, "Integrated vs. Chemical Pest Management:  The Case of Ricefield Mosquito Control in California", Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 14, 304-312 (September 1987).

Lichtenberg, Erik and Wayne M. Getz, "The Economics of Rice Field Mosquito Control",BioScience 35, 292-297 (May 1985).  

Lichtenberg, Erik and Wayne M. Getz, "Who Should Pay for Rice-Field Mosquito Control?" California Agriculture 38(11-12), 4-6 (November-December 1984).

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).