I picked this up via Marc Belemere’s blog. Worth repeating in full the text by Rich Sexton, president of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), In his column for The Exchange, the AAEA’s newsletter, he sets out why the discipline of agricultural economics is more relevant than ever.
[T]he events of recent years have brought into stark relief the great challenges that society faces and the role for agricultural economists in helping to meet them. The agricultural productivity growth that enabled food supply to grow faster than demand—and on a shrinking land base—has slowed, contributing to the recent rises in commodity prices. Changes in climate will present further challenges to sustaining productivity growth, but public R&D investments are languishing in many places. World population may increase by one-third by 2050, and rapid economic growth in China and India, home to more than one-third of the world’s population, has caused dramatic changes in diets and food demands in those countries. Along with changes in food demand, new demands for biofuels are now competing for grain. In short, agriculture is challenged to meet rapidly growing demands for food, feed, and fuel, and to do so with ever-smaller environmental impact.
Food demands are not only growing, they are changing in ways most of us would not have imagined. The attributes that define food products and production practices have expanded rapidly. In addition to traditional product attributes such as taste, appearance, convenience, brand appeal, and nutrition, consumers increasingly care also about aspects of the production process (e.g., use of chemicals, farm location and size, and treatment of animals), marketing arrangements (in particular, their “fairness”), and implications of food production and consumption for the environment.
Indeed, within this macro environment confronting agriculture lie countless puzzles, contradictions, and fascinating and important research questions that demand answers only we can provide.