MSU alumna credits her work at AFRE to success in her career

Now an assistant professor at the University of Delaware, Leah Palm-Forster's research identifies barriers to getting farmers to enroll in conservation programs.

June 1, 2017

Alumna Leah Palm-Forster conducts research that analyzes programs and policies that support sustainable land use practices by farmers.

“In the U.S., we spend a lot of money, $6 billion every year, on different conservation programs,” Palm-Forster said. “Finding ways to make them more cost-effective is really critical so we can get more environmental benefits from the limited dollars that we have to invest in these conservation programs.”

Now an assistant professor at the University of Delaware, Palm-Forster is building on the research she did at MichiganStateUniversity to do just that.

Palm-Forster’s dissertation research identified barriers to getting farmers to enroll in conservation programs. She found that the time and effort it took farmers to enroll in complex programs were significant hurdles.

“To participate in those kinds of programs, farmers are having to spend a lot of time thinking about how much money they would ask for to do certain kinds of conservation practices, like putting in a cover crop or installing a filter strip,” she said. “So you can imagine it’s a lot of work.”

She and her fellow researchers considered how this would affect the overall cost effectiveness of a given program, such as a reverse auction, wherein farmers place “bids” for how much money they would need to implement an environmentally friendly practice.

“We showed how these barriers would reduce the amount of environmental benefit that you would get for those limited dollars because you would have less participation and thus fewer projects to choose from,” Palm-Forster said.

Palm-Forster’s focus in this field of research is part of what brought her to the Applied Economics and Statistics Department at the University of Delaware.

She’s a research fellow with the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-environmental Research (CBEAR), which is housed in the department. The center focuses on how research can inform agri-environmental policy.

“Their mission aligns so well with the research that I do,” she said.

Palm-Forster is also chair-elect of the Committee on Women in Agricultural Economics, part of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. She joined the committee during her first year of graduate school at MSU, when Professor Scott Swinton, a member of the committee, encouraged her to. It provides professional development opportunities for women, offers travel awards for early scholars and links women with professional mentors.

Palm-Forster graduated from MSU in 2015. During her program, she worked with researchers from various departments, participated in professional committees and presented her work in seminars and conferences, all of which she says prepared her to be a successful applied economist.

“We were learning how to fit in the profession, not just think about the coursework in isolation,” she said.

Palm-Forster credits the interdisciplinary work she did at MSU for some of her success at the University of Delaware.

“I learned how to collaborate and talk across disciplines,” Palm-Forster said. “Now that I’m here, I’ve been invited to be a part of several interdisciplinary grant proposals. I feel like that experience during my Ph.D. really helped me to understand how to communicate and work within those types of groups.”

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