Natural resources are important to produce food, fiber, timber, and bioenergy. Farm and forestlands provide carbon sequestration, clean air and water, scenic vistas, and biodiversity. To help develop a sustainable, efficient economy, NIFA programs focus on activities that apply economic theory and methods to study interactions between economic and natural systems. Climate change, bioenergy, and environmental goods and services are major topics.
As the global population increases, so does the demand for agricultural products. Agriculture, however, is no longer the largest element in the economic base of most rural communities. The demand for environmental benefits has grown higher as incomes increase and people pursue a better quality of life. The environment with its diversity of natural resources has a significant impact on the economic viability of communities and human well-being. Natural resources and related income opportunities have increased the importance of best management practices to enhance agricultural production while avoiding the degradation of natural resources and the environment. Agricultural best management practices help lead to the sustainable use of natural resources and the environment. Resource economists address how choices are made by farmers, ranchers, and policymakers; how policy incentives might motivate better choices; and the potential consequences and distribution effects of these choices.
The long-term sustainability of natural resources and the environment is directly linked to many recognized environmental benefits from agriculture, such as carbon sequestration, open space and scenic vistas, ground water recharge, flood protection, wildlife habitats, community buffers or greenways, historical or cultural significance, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
NIFA programs encompass broad topical areas, including bioenergy, climate change, watersheds and terrestrial systems, water quality and supply, invasive species management, conservation policy, the valuation of non-market environmental goods and services, land use conservation and resource management, and nature-based recreation. To address these challenges, NIFA supports a systems approach at multiple scales that leads to the development of a sustainable and efficient economy. Resource economists collaborate with other biological and physical scientists to explore alternative natural resource management strategies that support long-term sustainability goals. An interdisciplinary systems approach combining research, education, and extension yields a broader understanding of the environment, ecology, natural resources, human behaviors, history, culture, demography, and their interactions and interrelationships.