Farmers can’t control the air quality of their farms, yet the air makes quite the difference to the success of the crops. Since air can’t respect property rights it requires governments to act, and that’s what happened back in the 1990s in the USA when environmental regulations to improve air quality were put in place. A study of the impact of those regulations revealed that $5 billion USD in crops can be traced back to improved air quality.
Protecting the environment is good for the planet and for profits!
Focusing on a nine-state region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin) that produces roughly two-thirds of national maize and soybean output, Lobell and study co-author Jennifer Burney, an associate professor of environmental science at the University of California, San Diego, set out to measure the impact on crop yields of ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.
“This has been a tricky problem to untangle because historically our measurements of different types of air pollutants and our measurements of agricultural yields haven’t really overlapped spatially at the necessary resolution,” explained Burney. “With the new high spatial resolution data, we could look at crop yields near both pollution monitors and known pollutant emissions sources. That revealed evidence of different magnitudes of negative impacts caused by different pollutants.”