Agricultural ecosystems are explicitly managed to meet private objectives, primarily profitability from the sale of food, fuel and fiber products. Because these ecosystems are directly managed by humans, they are uniquely suited to generate ecosystem services that could meet other human needs for which markets may not exist. This KBS LTER research area explores four themes:

  • The suitability of agriculture to provide various ecosystem services,
  • The willingness of farmers to provide nontraditional ecosystem services,
  • The potential value of ecosystem services from and to agriculture, and
  • Policy designs to encourage farmers to provide a wider range of ecosystem services.

These themes are explored through three research thrusts, described below.

Agricultural Ecosystem Services and Their Economic Value

Managed ecosystems, such as agriculture, are only beginning to be understood as potential providers of nonmarketed ecosystem services (Swinton et al. 2007; Zhang et al. 2007). With collaboration from ecological and social researchers around the nation, we are characterizing the ecosystem services linked to agriculture, challenges in their measurement and valuation, and policy designs to overcome those challenges in enhancing their provision. We use surveys, land prices, and production costs to estimate the economic value of agricultural ecosystem services (Ma et al. 2012; Ma and Swinton, 2011; Zhang and Swinton, 2012).

Pest Predation by Natural Enemies

Natural enemies that control agricultural pests provide a service by regulating pest populations. They provide value to farmers and consumers via crop yield protection and reduced need for chemical pest control. With the insect dynamics group at the KBS LTER, we have developed a spatial bioeconomic model of soybean aphid (Aphis glycines Matsumura) predation and population dynamics. This research reveals how natural enemies influence economic thresholds for chemical pest control and the derived economic value of natural enemies (Zhang and Swinton, 2012).

Farmer Willingness to Provide Ecosystem Services

The potential for farmers to provide ecosystem services beyond food, fuel and fiber depends upon their attitudes and the knowledge and incentives that shape those attitudes. Technology and government policy play important roles whose farm-level effects need to be better understood. Through farmer focus groups and surveys, we are exploring farmers’ views of trade-offs and complementarities between the production of marketed products and such ecosystem services as carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, and water quality regulation. We are examining farmers’ willingness to change practices to provide nonmarketed ecosystem services (Ma et al. 2012), as well as residents’ willingness to pay for those same services.

Selected Publications

  • Ma, S. and S.M. Swinton. 2011. Valuation of ecosystem services from rural landscapes using agricultural land prices. Ecol. Econ. 70:1649-1659.
  • Ma, S., S.M. Swinton, F. Lupi, and C.B. Jolejole-Foreman. 2012. Farmers’ willingness to participate in payment-for-environmental-services programs. J. Agric. Econ. 63(3): 604-626.
  • Swinton, S.M., F. Lupi, G.P. Robertson and S.K. Hamilton 2007. Ecosystem services and agriculture: cultivating agricultural ecosystems for diverse benefits. Ecol. Econ. 64:245-252.
  • Zhang, W., T.H. Ricketts, C. Kremen, K. Carney, and S.M. Swinton. 2007. Ecosystem services and dis-services to agriculture. Ecol. Econ. 64:253-260.
  • Zhang, W. and S.M. Swinton. 2012. Optimal control of soybean aphid in the presence of natural enemies and the implied value of their ecosystem services. J. Environ. Manag. 96:7-16.