Disease control comes with a price

Story and photography by Faryn Babbitt

Friday, October 8, 2010

When Dannele Peck was a child on her family's dairy farm in New York, she was fascinated by the wildlife around the farm and had dreams of studying these animals as an adult. Peck had never been out of New York State, and when she was 17, she headed out west.

After a Wyoming camping trip with her sister, Peck fell in love with Wyoming and chose to attend college in the Rockies.

Now Peck has a PhD in agricultural and resource economics, and spends her time researching economics and its connection to wildlife diseases and farming.

"I researched schools in Montana, Colorado and Wyoming, but Wyoming offered me scholarships, it was cheaper, and Laramie is a small town. My hometown was tiny, so I was terrified of moving to a big city. Wyoming was where I needed to go," explained Peck.

Peck began her education at the University of Wyoming, where she earned a bachelor's degree in wildlife biology and a minor in economics. Peck said that after researching jobs she realized that she would need to continue her education in order to have a career in the agriculture industry.

Educational Background

In the beginning, Peck was mainly concerned with wildlife biology until she realized the importance of economics on agriculture and wildlife.

"I would come home and tell my boyfriend (who was an economics student) that I wanted to save the elk, or save the birds, and he would say, 'Dannele, do you realize how much money it would cost to do things like that?' That's when I realized that I needed to have an understanding of economics before I could save the world!" exclaimed Peck.

After graduating, she realized that she would need a master's degree in order to do what she wanted in her field.

"I wanted to be in management, and I knew that I would be doing tech work with a bachelor's degree, so that's why I decided to get my master's," said Peck.

Peck earned a master's in agriculture economics, and decided to get a PhD after she realized that she wanted to be involved in research, management and teaching.

Peck moved to Oregon and received her PhD from Oregon State University. She chose to go to OSU because the timing was right, and she was already on the fast track to getting her PhD. Although Peck said that she does not regret getting her PhD from OSU, she understands the importance of obtaining experience in the field before getting a PhD.

"Looking back, I probably would have, or should have worked for a few years before I got my PhD, but the timing was right, and I loved school and had no problem with going for a few more years, so I just did it," Peck said, laughing.

After graduating from OSU, she decided to pursue a career as a professor in economics.

Peck returned to Wyoming, and began working as a professor in agriculture and applied economics at UW. In addition to teaching, Peck is concerned about researching wildlife diseases, and the economic impacts of gaining control over, or eliminating, these diseases.

Research and Goals

Most recently, Peck has researched brucellosis, a disease that is spread from elk to cattle. She is concerned with the cost of controlling brucellosis and the economic impacts of the disease. Peck's main concern is the cost of reducing risks of diseases, and whether or not it is worth the cost.

"The question is what is the economically optimal level of disease? It costs $6,000 to slaughter one elk with brucellosis, so we are researching how to lower costs and fight the spreading of the disease, without having to spend thousands of dollars slaughtering elk," Peck said.

Peck's research is concerned with helping the government decide what to do in these situations. Ultimately, according to Peck, humans are easier to control than animals, so if the government can use grant money to help farmers to keep the elk out of their properties it might be more effective and feasible. She is less concerned with eliminating diseases and more concerned with how to control diseases.

Peck's research spreads far beyond brucellosis. She has been to Africa four times, and has researched wildlife diseases and problems on African farms. Additionally, she has researched economically feasible farming practices in Uganda and Kenya. Peck is concerned with saving the world, without hurting the animals, while making sure that it is economically responsible.

One of Peck's colleagues, Ben Rashford, has a PhD in agriculture economics, and conducts research with Peck. Rashford met Peck in 1992, and has both a personal and professional relationship with her. He said that he is most impressed with her work ethic, passion and intelligence in her field.

"Dannele is genuinely concerned with generating research that is beneficial to academics, policy makers and regular people," said Rashford.

Peck and Rashford have worked together for years, and will continue researching the economic impact of disease on agriculture across the world.

Peck hopes that better management strategies will be discovered in agriculture, and that her research will help to fight diseases and fight costs for farmers and the government. She said that she hopes that in the future people will realize the importance of economics on wildlife and natural resources.

"I want people to recognize that we are not just a bunch of accountants in fancy suits, and that economists have a lot to offer the agriculture industry and the world," Peck said.

The future of the agriculture industry depends strongly upon economical research, and Peck is paving the way for economists to assist in helping the agriculture industry worldwide.