Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Nathaniel Higgins
AREC alumnus Nathaniel Higgins (Ph.D. 2010) is a fellow with the U.S. Social and Behavioral Sciences Team. He also is an economist at the Economic Research Service, USDA, and adjunct professor in the Department of International Economics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and in the Department of Economics at the University of Maryland. In his research, Nathaniel uses experimental and computational economics to study problems in market design, especially problems related to the design of USDA conservation programs. He has published articles on the design of auctions, behavioral economics, and commodities prices, and consulted in the design of auctions for spectrum and airport landing slots. His research has appeared in outlets such as the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, the Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, the European Journal of Agricultural Economics, and Environmental Science and Technology.
As one example, Dr. Higgins recently complete a project on USDA microloans. Because farming often produces irregular income and requires large capital investments, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers loans to in-need farmers. The loans are intended to benefit farmers who have difficulty obtaining credit from a commercial source and whose farms require a timely injection of capital. To meet the financing needs of small, beginning, and non-traditional farm operations, USDA’s Farm Service Agency, USDA’s Economic Research Service, and SBST launched an informational campaign to increase awareness and uptake of one such loan program, known as Microloans. Farmers were sent personalized letters that contained facts about Microloans, a customized set of action steps for applying, and the contact information of the recipient’s local loan officer. The informational campaign significantly increased participation in the loan program. As a result of the campaign, more farmers inquired about, applied for, and were approved for loans. In areas that received the targeted outreach, the proportion of farmers who obtained a Microloan increased by 22 percent (from 0.09 percent to 0.11 percent of farmers). USDA plans to build on this success with a second campaign this coming year.