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Award for Waikato agricultural economist and change-maker
Published: 24 Feb 2010
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An economist who advises the Gates Foundation on agricultural research funding has won the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Emerging Scholar at the University of Waikato Management School.

Dr Graeme Doole divides his time between Perth and Hamilton – he’s a research fellow at the University of Western Australia, where he completed his doctorate, and is also an honorary lecturer at Waikato.

His research focuses on how best to manage agricultural and natural systems. He is currently looking at ways to improve water quality in the Waikato River and in Australian lakes, and is part of another research project to find ways to ensure mine sites are revegetated by mining companies.

He’s also a consultant to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, advising on ways to improve the allocation of funds to agricultural research.

“My research involves the use of mathematical modelling to improve insight into best-practice management,” he says. “So I’m looking at cost-effective ways to decrease nitrate leaching from farm run-off into the Waikato River and to reduce phosphorus enrichment of Australian lakes in low-rainfall areas.

“With the mining project, we’re looking at improving the ways that mining companies are regulated through the use of bonds – a difficult problem because these firms often face high bankruptcy risk due to highly volatile commodity prices.”

Dr Doole says the Outstanding Emerging Scholar Award shows that trying to increase the practical relevance of economic analysis for policy evaluation and natural resource management is worthwhile.

"Many analyses of environmental issues using economic theory are highly theoretical and academic exercises. I have worked with some strong believers in pragmatic economic evaluation in Western Australia, namely Professor David Pannell and Professor Ross Kingwell, and think their goal of making a change on the ground is a great goal for an early career scientist.”

Waikato Management School Dean Professor Frank Scrimgeour said Dr Doole’s focus on practice-relevant research made him a stand-out choice for the award. “Businesses, farmers and government all benefit from a better understanding of environmental and natural resource issues. Graeme’s research shows that economic analysis can be a key tool for finding solutions to problems that affect us all.”

Last year, Dr Doole won an award from the UK Agricultural Economics Society recognising the best essay by a young agricultural economist. His essay focused on reducing nitrate pollution from New Zealand dairy production through regulating stocking rate and nitrogen fertiliser application. “The model I used to examine these issues is over two million equations in size and took around a year to build,” he says. “Unlike previous studies, it goes down to the level of the individual farm.

“The results showed that while it will be costly to the dairy industry to improve water quality in the Waikato River, this cost can be offset at low levels of regulation through improving per-cow milk production.”