Grant H. West

University of Arkansas
Public Policy Ph.D. Program

University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, Arkansas
72701 |  Visit Personal Website

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My research explores public policy issues of agri-environmental concern in the area of water resources through spatial and quantitative modeling. Building upon interdisciplinary research – something critical to finding sustainable management solutions for water resources – my work integrates contemporary theories of public policy, environmental and behavioral economics, and spatial sciences. This research asks how new forms of agricultural technology and available spatial data can be leveraged to promote water conservation and sustain economic performance. It also asks how information, location, governance structures, policy core beliefs, and environmental attitudes influence policy interaction within agri-environmental networks and ultimately promote or discourage conservation. My doctoral dissertation titled “Spatio-temporal Adoption of Long-term Water Management Strategies in Arkansas Agriculture” comprises three articles and characterizes current levels and past patterns of adoption regarding water conservation practices in Arkansas agriculture. It models future adoption and conservation outcomes under competing technology regimes using a spatially explicit model and compares outcomes in the presence of different policy alternatives. This work demonstrates that emerging technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles present opportunities for leveraging data to conserve water resources without detrimental effects to farm profits. Because farmers are front-line managers of nearly one-third of the U.S. land area, their decisions are crucial for conservation. My work also examines agri-environmental networks of farmers and policy elites, using choice modeling methods to estimate how different factors influence a farmers’ willingness-to-pay for and/or willingness-to-accept water conservation practices and policies. Factors of interest include information, location and its physical characteristics, governance structures, policy core beliefs, attitudes about the environment, and narratives about the environment.

Ying Xu, Qiuqiong Huang, G.H. West. 2015. Adoption of Water Conservation Practices Under Climate Risks: Evidence from Arkansas, United States. Submitted paper to be presented at Southern Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meetings, Atlanta, GA, Jan. 31- Feb. 3.
Abstract: Water shortage is likely intensified by climate change. Although advanced irrigation technologies and agricultural water management practices are widely promoted, farmers’ adoption behavior is not well understood in the climate change context. This study helps fill this gap by assessing how climate risk affects such adoption. We construct moment-based climate risk measures that better reflect its volatility and extremes and apply them in multiple discrete choice modeling procedures. We also extend existing literature focusing solely on irrigation technologies to include conservation practices such as the Best Management Practices (BMPs), thereby providing a more complete picture of conservation practices. Jointly using the Arkansas subset of USDA Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey and Census of Agriculture over years and multiple climate records, we find climate risk plays a role in the adoption of advanced irrigation technologies and BMPs, and suggest the policy relevance of the consideration of climate risk in understanding farmers’ technology adoption.
Kovacs, K., M. Mancini, G.H. West. “Landscape irrigation management for maintaining an aquifer and economic returns.” Journal of Environmental Management, Vol. 160, 2015: 271-282.
Abstract: Expanding irrigated agriculture and dryer climatic conditions has led to large-scale withdrawals of groundwater and the decline in shallow aquifers. Policy makers must wrestle with the challenge of maintaining economic growth while conserving the groundwater resource. A spatially explicit landscape level model analyzes consequences of optimally chosen crop mix patterns on an aquifer and economic returns. The model of the groundwater use incorporates irrigation needs of the crops grown, initial aquifer thickness, hydro-conductivity of the aquifer, and distance to surrounding grid cells. The economic model incorporates the site specific yield, crop mix, and irrigation practice investments to predict economic returns. A tradeoff occurs between the volume of the aquifer and economic returns due to groundwater withdrawal for irrigation, but the farm's ability to grow profitable lower irrigation crops dampens the intensity of this tradeoff. Allowing for multiple unconventional irrigation practices that are yield increasing and water conserving significantly increases the economic returns of a given crop mix while maintaining the aquifer.
Kovacs, K., M. Popp, K. Brye, G.H. West. “On-farm reservoir adoption in the presence of spatially explicit groundwater use and recharge.” Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 40(1), 2015: 1 – 27.
Abstract: Groundwater management is conducted in spatial aquifers where well pumping results in localized cones of depression. This is in contrast to the single-cell aquifer used in most economic analyses that assumes groundwater depletion occurs uniformly over a study area. We address two aspects of the optimal management of groundwater: a spatially explicit representation of the aquifer and the potential of on-farm reservoirs to recharge the underlying aquifer. A spatial-dynamic model of the optimal control of groundwater use and on-farm reservoir adoption is developed. Results suggest that a single-cell aquifer overestimates groundwater use and farm net returns over thirty years.
Kovacs, K., E.J. Wailes, G.H. West, J.S. Popp, K. Bektemirov. “Optimal spatial-dynamic management of groundwater conservation and surface water quality with on-farm reservoirs.” Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 46,4, 2014:409-437.
Abstract: We examine how much on-farm reservoirs can increase groundwater quantity and improve surface water quality using a spatial-dynamic model of farm profit maximization in the Arkansas Delta. Sensitivity analysis of the farm profit objective by including the value of surface water quality and the groundwater buffer value evaluates how accounting for environmental value affects the optimal crop mix, water use, and farm profits. The best policy for a critical water resource area is to have the government cost share construction of on-farm reservoirs because groundwater conservation and surface water quality goals are achieved efficiently for a modest redistribution of income.

Substantive Focus:
Economic Policy
Energy and Natural Resource Policy PRIMARY
Environmental Policy SECONDARY
Science and Technology Policy

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Process Theory
Agenda-Setting, Adoption, and Implementation PRIMARY
Policy Analysis and Evaluation SECONDARY