UD’s new economics center open for business

Managing Editor

NEWARK, Del. (Dec. 2, 2014) — Donning customized white lab coats, University of Delaware officials cut the ribbon on the new Center for Experimental and Applied Economics at UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources last week.
The center’s research focuses on social and economic behavior relating to how people value ecosystem services.
Major research includes land conservation and ecosystem service markets, food safety and agricultural policy, and provision of public goods but cover a variety of topics including consumer behavior, solving problems related to water quantity and quality, environmental impact on target populations, food safety and discrimination.
The center is also the headquarters for a USDA consortium called the Center for Behavioral and Experimental AgriEnvironmental Policy Research or CBEAR and is a collaboration involving the University of Chicago, Georgia State, Cornell, Tufts, among many other academic institutions. A $750,000, three-year USDA seed grant will fund the new center.
More than 50 faculty, including 20 from UD, are associated with the centers, university officials said.
CBEAR’s goals are to improve the efficiency and implementation of federal programs by seeking direct input from farmers.
Many of the studies at CBEAR pay participants based on the decisions they make, with the goal of improving existing policy.
“Our experiments pay people cash to analyze their decisions,” said Kent Messer, a professor in CANR’s Department of Applied Economics and Statistics who heads the center with Paul Ferraro of Georgia State University. “Government programs related to agriculture and the environment need to be based on strong science and economics. Evidence-based policy, insights from the behavioral sciences, and randomized controlled trials are the norm in medicine, education, and other policy fields. CBEAR will bring this approach to U.S. agri-environmental policy.”
Last year, UD students recruited farmers at Delaware Agriculture Week to participate in a study on nutrient management practices.
This year at ag week, students will seek information from farmers on what they see as the value of keeping excess nutrients on their farms from entering waterways, again paying cash based on the responses.
They’re actually playing for real money,” said Linda Grand a UD graduate student and center research assistant conducting the study. “Research has shown how they’ll act while using real money is how they’ll act in real life.”
Other studies previewed at the ribbon cutting included Jacob Fook’s work on how close to the shoreline people will tolerate offshore wind turbines before it will detract from their beach view and Maik Kecinski’s work on how much of a premium people would pay for Delaware oysters knowing they contribute to better water quality. With only early results, Fook said between two and three miles offshore is about as close as most participants wanted turbines and Kecinski said his study is showing consumers will pay as much as 10 percent more for the local oysters.
Speaking at the ribbon cutting, University President Patrick Harker said that the centers “connect theory to practice” and further discussion of the grand challenges facing agriculture.
“It’s important to have that talk but the real work gets done in places like this,” he said.
Dr. Mark Rieger, dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the planning for the center came out of a year’s worth of strategic planning at the college and said it was an easy choice to move forward with the project when he was named dean in 2012.
“It’s something that’s really poised for success,” Rieger said. “We had the talent but we didn’t have the space. So now, two years later, we have the space to do this great work.”