The latest product of my eclectic new academic career – a paper about manure.
Manure disposal is a growing problem as agricultural specialization leads to ever-larger concentrations of farm animals. Animals and crops were once grown on the same farm, creating an easy path for manure disposal on cropland in a cycle from animals to feed crops and back. Increasing specialization today means that concentrated animal operations are no longer linked to adjacent cropland on which animal waste can be disposed, leading to significant off-farm externalities in the form of risks of air and water contamination. Using an arid lands case study of dairies and crop and grass land in New Mexico, USA, we explore the possibility of reintegration through the analysis of available crop and range land in the scale of counties and watersheds surrounding the state’s concentrated dairies. We find that there is often available land to make productive use of the waste. However, in developing the policy tools to reintegrate the animal waste-crop cycle among independent farms and ranches, it is critical to consider the appropriate geographic scale.
Suraj Ghimire, a UNM Economics grad student, did the heavy lifting here, with mentorship from my faculty colleague Jingjing Wang. My piece was small, and can be seen near the paper’s end – the institutional challenge of overcoming the coordination problem associated with manure disposal as dairies increasingly operate at a scale substantially larger than the immediately available land around them for farm field manure disposal.