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FER Professor Wins NSF Grant for Project Studying Agricultural Land Use

Project team at inception workshop.

Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources Professor, Dr. Erin Sills, was recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program for her research, “Land-Climate-Water Feedbacks and Farmer Decision-Making in an Agricultural System”. The $1.45 million grant was awarded in August 2018 to a team led by the University of Montana. The team will investigate how clearing forest for agricultural use impacts local water availability with feedbacks to agricultural productivity. Land use decisions by local farmers influence the regional hydroclimate, altering the availability of water for agricultural production, including both soil moisture, also knowns as green water, and surface or ground water, also known as blue water. According to the abstract ( posted by NSF, the research “will address questions of how environmental variability and land-use changes affect the regional hydroclimate and property-level green and blue water; the extent to which individual farmers are vulnerable to variation in green and blue water and how they adapt; and how inter-related farmer production decisions aggregate to determine water, land-use, production and welfare outcomes under different policy scenarios.”

In addition to Dr. Sills, an interdisciplinary team of scientists are collaborating on this research including climate scientists, hydrologists, environmental economists, and other social scientists and veterinary scientists from six different universities in the U.S. and Brazil. Over the past 20 years (since 1997), Dr. Sills and her research partners have been collecting data on farm households and land-use in an old frontier of the western Brazilian Amazon. This work has been funded by NSF, including most recently through the project  Living with Deforestation: Analyzing Transformations in Welfare and Land Use on an Old Amazonian Frontier (, and the Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) through a project on the Brazilian Forest Code ( According to Dr. Sills, “This new CNH project is an opportunity to build on that panel data set by collaborating with hydrologists and climate scientists to model the linkages and feedbacks between decisions about land use at the individual farmer level and the regional hydroclimate.”

Several graduate students at NC State have theses and dissertations based on these projects, including Yu Wu, Shubhayu Saha, and Charles MacIntyre.  Dr. Sills plans to offer a research assistantship for a graduate student to work on the new project starting in January 2020.