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Published: 2008-04-14 00:00:00

An Environment Waikato economist has won a prestigious international fellowship to study the impacts of environmental policy on farming communities.

Environmental economist Sandra Barns has been awarded a prestigious Marie Curie Fellowship by the European Commission.

This June she will fly to England to work at Norwich’s University of East Anglia with one of England’s most highly regarded and widely-published economists, Professor Ian Bateman.

Professor Bateman has developed a model to predict how government moves to improve water quality by reducing agricultural pollution will impact on land use and farm incomes in the Trent catchment, north-east of London.

“Declining water quality is a pressing issue in Europe and there are a lot of parallels between what’s happening there and what’s happening in New Zealand,” Ms Barns said.

Her job will be to “ground truth” the professor’s model through farmer interviews.

She will be using a research tool developed by economist Geoff Kaine and a team from the Department of Primary Industries in Victoria, Australia, which Environment Waikato has been using in an agricultural project in the upper Waikato River catchment. The project is designed to better understand farmer decision making and, in the long-term, help farmers reduce their environmental impacts.

“The European Commission was particularly interested in transferring the theory and practice we’ve been using in the Waikato into a European setting,” Ms Barns said.

Ms Barns’ entomologist partner Bruce Willoughby, who has a 30-year association with AgResearch and extensive knowledge of New Zealand agricultural practices, will be her co-researcher.

Ms Barns said the fellowship was a dream opportunity to live abroad for a year and gain valuable experience to bring back to Environment Waikato.

“We anticipate coming home with quite a few published papers and a network of contacts from England and right across Europe that will be enormously useful in our work in the years ahead,” she said.

The fellowship, which was advertised internationally, will cover the full cost of Ms Barns’ travel and living expenses.