Nicole Karwowski 

About Me

I am an assistant professor at the Montana State University department of Agricultural Economics & Economics. I received my PhD in Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin Madison. 

My work focuses on quantifying the role of conservation and nature-based solutions in improving agricultural resiliency. I use econometric methods and remote sensing data to conduct ecosystem valuations that improve land-use decisions. My most recent research examines how wetland restoration impacts crop yields, indemnities, and water quality. My current projects explore the role of the Conservation Reserve Program and its impact on welfare. This work can guide decision-making that align agricultural productivity with environmental sustainability. My aim to inform cost-effective policy-making is especially pertinent given the increasing impacts of climate change on agriculture and the need for adaptive, resilient practices.

I am originally from the Chicagoland area. I enjoy exploring the natural world through birding, hiking, and rock climbing.



Regression discontinuity: change in yields after easement

The Direct and Indirect Effects of Wetland Easements: Evidence from Fields in Wisconsin

Land conservation can enhance agricultural resiliency by reducing vulnerability to climate-related risks and shocks. Understanding the optimal prices and ecosystem services of conserving land is an important step towards climate-smart agriculture. I evaluate the costs and benefits in terms of agricultural production of a major conservation policy, the Natural Resources Conservation Services Wetland Reserve Program. Novel remote sensing data allows for the identification of wetland easement effects on agricultural yields at the field level. I estimate the opportunity cost of wetland easements by estimating the forgone yields of retiring land from production. Using ranking data and a regression discontinuity framework, I find that easements decrease yields by 83 bushels per acre for corn (56% of average yields) and 31 bushels per acre for soybeans (73% of average yields). Further, using a dynamic difference-in-differences approach that accounts for staggered treatment timing, I find evidence that easements benefit surrounding production within a few kilometers: corn yields increase by 3-4 bushels per acre. Easements have the largest spillover effects in areas with open fields, open water, and during extreme rain events. These results call for attention to the opportunity costs and beneficial externalities of land conservation programs.

Easement area and county-level indemnities for corn

Estimating the Effects of Easements on Agricultural Production

US crops face higher losses as destructive disasters such as droughts and floods become commonplace. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) easement programs offer a voluntary adaptation strategy to improving agricultural resilience. Easements impact agricultural production directly by reducing planting on marginal land and indirectly by improving yields on surrounding cropland. I use national USDA data from the past three decades to build a county-level panel. I employ a regression model with two-way fixed effects to quantify how easement land share impacts yields, risk, as well as acres planted, failed, and prevented planted. A 100% increase in land share of wetland easements increases yields by 0.34%, 0.77% and 0.46% for corn, soybeans, and wheat. Easements improve yields by mitigating the effect of excess precipitation and extreme degree days. Wetland easements reduce soybean losses from excess moisture, heat, and disease by $3.59, $6.07, and $11.23 for each dollar of liability. I also find evidence of a slippage effect in which producers reduce soybean and wheat acreage but increase corn production. This work quantifies some of the ecosystem benefits of easement habitats, uncovers program externalities, and has policy implications for future NRCS funding and targeting decisions.

Water Quality and the Conservation Reserve Program: Empirical Evidence from the Mississippi River Basin with Aaron Hrozencik, Marin Skidmore, and Andrew Rosenberg

Agricultural runoff is the primary source of water quality impairment in the United States. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays landowners to remove their environmentally sensitive land from production and to implement conservation covers and practices, is to a large degree aimed at reducing erosion and nutrient runoff. We study how land share in CRP impacts nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia concentrations in the Mississippi River Basin from 2000-2018. We leverage contract-level CRP data and recently harmonized water quality measurements to evaluate CRP effectiveness at the subwatershed-level. We use an instrumental variables approach that exploits variation in the national acreage cap to mitigate the endogeneity bias. We estimate that increasing landshare in CRP significantly reduces nutrient levels. These findings contribute to a broader understanding of CRP's role in improving water quality, with implications for conservation programs and agricultural policies. By emphasizing voluntary programs like CRP, policymakers can more effectively combat agricultural non-point source water pollution, reducing its environmental and economic impacts.

Ammonia concentrations and wetland easements in the Mississippi Atchafalaya River Basin

Nature's Kidneys: the Role of the Wetland Reserve Easements in Restoring Water Quality with Dr. Marin Skidmore

Non-point source pollution, primarily from agriculture, is a threat to water quality in the United States. Many reduction strategies aim to prevent runoff before it occurs by optimizing nutrient use or changing land use. Wetlands provide an ex-post natural solution by filtering sediments and excess nutrients from the landscape. This ability, one of the many ecological benefits they provide, has earned wetlands the name “Earth’s kidneys.” Quantifying the impact of wetland easements in the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) on water quality is critical for optimal allocation of funds for non-point source pollution abatement. We causally identify whether newly restored wetlands are effective at reducing nitrogen (ammonia) and phosphorus loads at the subwatershed level in an area spanning 40% of the continental US, the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin. Results suggest that wetland easements reduce ammonia concentrations and that effects are heightened in areas with a higher proportion of vegetation and open water. Effects on phosphorous are complex; wetlands seem to act as both a source and sink for phosphorous nutrients. On average, increasing wetland easement spending by $900,000 in a subwatershed can decrease ammonia levels by 4%.

Contact Information


Linfield Hall, Bozeman MT 59715