Cost-effective Land Use Planning: Optimizing Land Use and Land Management Patterns to Maximize Social Benefits

Derric N. Pennington, Brent J Dalzell, Erik Nelson, D J Mulla, Steven J Taff, Peter L Hawthorne, Stephen Polasky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Improving water quality and other ecosystem services in agriculturally dominated watersheds is an important policy objective in many regions of the world. A major challenge is overcoming the associated costs to agricultural producers. We integrate spatially-explicit models of ecosystem processes with agricultural commodity production models to analyze the biophysical and economic consequences of alternative land use and land management patterns to achieve Total Maximum Daily Loads targets in a proto-typical agricultural watershed. We apply these models to find patterns that maximize water quality objectives for given levels of foregone agricultural profit. We find it is possible to reduce baseline watershed phosphorus loads by ~ 20% and sediment loads by ~ 18% without any reduction in agricultural profits. Our results indicate that meeting more stringent targets will result in substantial economic loss. However, when we add the social benefits from water quality improvement and carbon sequestration to private agricultural net returns we find that water quality improvements up to 50% can be obtained at no loss to societal returns. The cost of meeting water quality targets will vary over time as commodity and ecosystem service prices fluctuate. If crop prices drop or the value of ecosystem services increase, then achieving higher water quality goals will be less costly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-90
Number of pages16
JournalEcological Economics
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
D.N.L., B.D., E.J.N., S.P., D.M., and S.T. gratefully acknowledge funding from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (B27006).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Agriculture
  • Ecosystem services
  • Efficiency frontiers
  • Land use and land management policy
  • Land use change
  • Water quality


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