Interdisciplinary research has been the cornerstone of Darrell Bosch’s 30-plus-year career – a career that was recently recognized by the Southern Agricultural Economics Association.

A professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bosch received the association’s highest honor, the SAEA Lifetime Achievement Award, during the association’s annual meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, in February. He was one of three individuals to be selected and awarded.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Bosch. “It’s the culmination of your career, so I was very pleased and very grateful to receive it.”

As an economist, Bosch adds important economic analyses to water-related problems affecting Virginia. He has partnered with colleagues from over a dozen different departments to help answer questions involving nonpoint source pollution, irrigation, drinking water infrastructure, and the health of Chesapeake Bay fisheries.

“Society is demanding answers to complex problems that cannot be solved by one discipline alone,” said Bosch upon receiving the award. “Society has rewarded science with prestige, trust, and resources. In exchange, there is an expectation that science will produce answers to socially pressing problems – the ‘social accountability of science.’”

In recent projects, Bosch has analyzed the effects of climate change on the costs of meeting water quality goals, finding that costs increase with climate change. He has also modeled the feasibility of nurseries using recycled irrigation water, discovering that increased production costs can be offset by an “eco-labeled” designation for which consumers will pay a higher price.

During a special breakfast for the association’s award winners, Bosch mentioned Virginia Tech’s emphasis on cross-disciplinary research and made a strong case for educating students using an interdisciplinary approach, noting that today’s problems require collaborative work across disciplines.

He also said that agricultural and applied economics lends itself well to these kinds of projects.

“Agricultural economics is a rigorous applied discipline that draws from other disciplines to provide useful, policy-relevant research results. For me, interdisciplinary research has been a way to realize the promise of agricultural economics.”

By working in cross-disciplinary teams with experts in biological systems engineering, civil and environmental engineering, community health, agronomy, and more, Bosch has helped deliver practical solutions and advice to farmers, suburban residents, and city planners on ways to improve their processes while minimizing environmental hazards.

He has also trained his graduate students to appreciate and pursue interdisciplinary projects. He is currently working on projects that look at optimal spatial placement of agricultural conservation practices and the costs of reducing emissions to air and water from dairy farms.

But whatever knowledge these or future projects bring, one thing is certain – Bosch will continue to chase collaborative discovery.

Written by Jillian Broadwell

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