Three essays evaluating tradeoffs in agricultural decision making

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Virginia Tech

The act of decision making involves a choice amongst tradeoffs. In agriculture this is no different. This dissertation is composed of four papers that examine the tradeoffs being made across different agricultural decision making processes. The first two papers examine the tradeoffs made at the individual producer level while the last two papers examine tradeoffs made at the national policy level.

The first paper investigates farmer attitudes towards how a hypothetical set of production practices referred to as "]conservation agriculture" will affect yield, labor use, erosion, and cost in two communities of Bolivar province, Ecuador. By evaluating the tradeoffs producers are willing to make when choosing to adopt such practices, changes in producer welfare associated with adoption may be identified. These measures can assist in identifying constraints to adoption and aid in extension and policy outreach development.

The second paper aims to gain a better understanding of the dynamic relationship between farmers and food buyers. This issue is examined from the perspective of small-scale specialty crop producers who are currently or are considering marketing their products into wholesale food markets. With a focus on farms in Virginia and North Carolina, this study seeks to identify key contract characteristics and buyer attributes which are valued by small-scale specialty crop producers; quantify tradeoffs small-scale specialty crop producers are willing to make between buyer attributes and contract characteristics when establishing a new contractual relationship; and determine the factors influencing these tradeoffs.

The third and fourth papers examine the demands that U.S. biofuel production has placed on domestic nutrient fertilizer production. A key argument in favor of domestic biofuel production is that it is a renewable path towards energy independence. However the inputs used in the production of biofuel feedstock, primarily fertilizer nutrients, are anything but renewable. These two papers add to the discussion surrounding biofuel policies by asking an important question that has not received the attention it deserves: "What about the non-renewable inputs (e.g., nutrient fertilizers) that go into producing the inputs (e.g., corn) used for biofuel production?"

Conservation Agriculture, Agricultural Contracts, Biofuel