As nations tilt toward deglobalization, Ohio State will study how food, energy and water systems in the Great Lakes region might be affected

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Imagine the United States gets ensnared in a lengthy trade war and the fallout undercuts international demand for crops grown in the Great Lakes region. Farmers and other producers would eventually adjust their plans, setting in motion changes that could have pronounced ramifications on how land, water and energy resources are used and are collectively affected for years to come. But what are those ramifications, exactly, and to what extent can they be predicted?

Those are questions Ohio State researchers will address as they examine the possible effects of deglobalization and model the scenarios that might play out in the Midwest. The work is supported by the National Science Foundation, which on Sept. 19 announced a grant for Ohio State that is expected to exceed $2.4 million over the next three years. The money is provided through Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS), a research partnership between NSF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Elena Irwin, an environmental economist and the principal investigator, said a deeper understanding of potential effects of deglobalization on the interconnected economies of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin is critical given the region’s dependence on agricultural and manufacturing exports and its decades-long integration into the global economy.

“Our goal is to develop a modeling framework that will allow us to project potential futures under different hypothetical scenarios—like a trade war or policies to promote greater energy independence—and assess the environmental and economic consequences,” she said. “These triggers would likely have not just one, but many effects on regional producers and consumers.”

Ohio State researchers will examine a wide sweep of economic, behavioral and environmental factors, including the diversity of watersheds and possible choices by farmers. To take advantage of the expertise of local and regional actors, and to ensure that the results are useful to decision-makers, researchers will ask policymakers, farmers, environmental organizations, conservation groups and other key external stakeholders to review the scientific research and help shape the resulting models.

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