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Field Notes: Musings from the Natural Resource Ecology & Management Department

By Emily Zimmerman

Each year, Iowa State University’s Natural Resource Ecology and Management (NREM) Department publishes a collection of articles designed to provide a slice of what has been happening in NREM over the past year. The graduate student publication, called Field Notes, highlights undergraduate and graduate research, catches up with recent graduates, and welcomes our new faculty. This past year, I wrote an article for Field Notes detailing part of my doctoral research.Field notes cover The article, titled “Learning how to have our cake and eat it, too: Identifying opportunities for co-production of commodities and ecosystem services in Iowa,” explores how tweaks can be made in agricultural land management to jointly expand economic and environmental opportunities for farmers to co-produce agricultural products and desired environmental benefits (e.g., enhanced water quality).

Environmental benefits, often referred to as ecosystem goods and services, are the benefits that humans receive from natural and managed ecosystems. As many of us are aware of, Iowa is very efficient at producing ecosystem goods associated with agricultural products. Iowa leads the nation in the production of corn, soybeans, eggs, hogs, and ethanol – which collectively generate large economic gains for our state and its residents. Nonetheless, the production of Iowa’s agricultural products often comes at a tradeoff in the context of ecosystem-derived services such as water quality for drinking and recreating. Recent research out of Iowa State University’s Departments of Natural Resource Ecology and Management and Sociology has demonstrated that Iowans desire a more multifunctional agricultural landscape that delivers not only agricultural products, but a broader suite of ecosystem services (e.g., enhanced water quality for drinking water and aquatic life, expanded recreational opportunities, and improved game wildlife habitat) as well.

This is the context for my research: how can tweaks in agricultural land management jointly expand economic and environmental opportunities for farmers to co-produce agricultural products and desired ecosystem services? To get at this question, my research project is examining a spatially-targeted payment for ecosystem service system. Such an approach is designed to identify conservation opportunities for farmers that will improve conditions for water quality and biodiversity at watershed scales, potentially increase average yields and lead to expanded market opportunities and stewardship acclaim.

To learn more about how this research is identifying these opportunities, check out this edition of Field Notes, which can be found online

Emily Zimmerman is a Ph.D. student in the LESEM and PLUS Labs.