Profile: Mark Morrison – Environmental Economist

| Posted Jul 30,2020

Unlike many of the researchers who work for the Soil CRC, Professor Mark Morrison’s academic life didn’t begin with soil.  

He is an environmental economist with Charles Sturt University, whose passion for stewardship of the land and wellbeing for people has led him to working closely with landholders on agro-environmental schemes, climate-change resilience and soil carbon sequestration. Now he is leading a Soil CRC project on activating markets to reward good soil management.

Mark began his academic career with an economics degree followed by a PhD in environmental economics that focused on using choice modelling to value improved environmental quality. This has now come full circle as it is one of the tools that is being used as part of the Soil CRC project.

He now describes himself as sitting “somewhere between marketing, economics and regional development”.

Mark’s passion for the environment has driven much of his career. He has worked in many environmentally focussed projects – valuing environmental quality, working with landholders and evaluating market-based instruments, and communicating with landholders in the face of climate change and other environmental issues.

Mark’s interest in understanding the behaviours of landholders, and what can influence them, was ignited when he noticed that some market-based instruments had failed to create much interest among landholders. It was evident that all landholders are different, and different approaches and programs are needed to change the behaviour of different landholders.

Mark also began to recognise that there needed to be another way to address behaviour change apart from the classical economic instruments, such as tenders to pay for biodiversity, which are expensive and often ineffective.

“I realised that there was not going to be enough money from the government to solve many of the environmental challenges in rural Australia. The use of tenders and other market-based instruments weren’t going to be sufficient to drive the sorts of changes that were needed to sustain and incentivise long-term and widespread change among farmers.”

It was this understanding that led him to the Soil CRC.

“Early on, the Soil CRC recognised that we need to focus on changing markets to get change rather than designing another fund that probably won’t lead to long-term change. In this way, change comes about because the markets themselves provide incentives,” he says.

This concept is integral to the success of the Soil CRC project he leads.

“If you have good soil stewardship, you get a cheaper rate for mortgage or insurance. If you improve your soil, you might get a better price for your farm property. Consumers will begin to value soil stewardship, and either pay more or be more likely to choose products made using good soil stewardship practices. On top of that is the benefit from higher productivity. All this gives farmers a big incentive to pursue soil stewardship practices.”

The longevity of the Soil CRC program is also a big drawcard for Mark.

“Working on this project is exciting because I can see that we can start to make some good progress on changing these markets. It is like a puzzle we can solve and, with the Soil CRC, we have the time and resources to do it.”

This project not only taps into Mark’s passion for the environment, but also his desire to see thriving regional communities.

“Improving our soil seems like a sustainable environmental solution that will not only help farmers but also help regional communities. The more farmers look after their soil, the more reliable their income is, the sturdier our regional economies become,” he says.

“The welfare of people and the welfare of the land go hand in hand.”