The Farm Economy: Future Research and Education Priorities

The Farm Economy: Future Research and Education Priorities Abstract Research priorities for the U.S. farm economy include increasing the productivity and cost efficiency on current land resources while understanding production agriculture across the globe. Providing unbiased objective analysis to policymakers with regard to commodity programs, insurance markets, agricultural credit, and the production of bioenergy are important issues that directly affect not only the U.S. farm economy but other agricultural regions. The ability to manage risk, the increasing complexity of farm operations, the ability of the U.S. farm sector to be nimble to changes in individual and societal preferences, and the efficient discovery of information through efficient markets offer a wealth of research opportunities. The study of the farm economy has been a focus of agricultural economists since the profession’s inception in 1910; the Journal of Farm Economics was first published in 1919. As future research and education priorities are considered, the articles from the first three volumes are instructive. While these articles addressed a different era, the topics addressed are not all that different from the problems that agricultural economists are currently addressing (see table 1). The issues addressed nearly 100 years ago include the supply of farm labor and the compensation of that labor, the cost of production of various enterprises, agricultural land speculation, and the inability to start farming with only income generation from that farm, adoption of technology, marketing issues including market concentration, and issues associated with farm organization (table 1). Table 1 Articles in the Journal of Farm Economics, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 Farm Labor Outlook  Can the Farms of the United States Pay for Themselves?  After-the-War Problems in Agriculture  Marketing as a Problem for Farm Demonstrators  Important Factors in the Cost of Growing Wheat  The Adjustment of the Farm Business to Declining Price Levels  Principles Involved in Fixing the Price of Milk  The Farm Labor Problem  Milk Production Costs  Farm Management Activities of County Agents  The Influence of Good Farm Organization in Costs of Production  Discussion Relating to Inward and Outward Movement of Agriculturists  American Association of Agricultural Legislation  Farm Labor Experience of the Employment Service of Canada  Primary versus Derivative Foods in Times of Food Shortage  Fundamentals of Cooperative Marketing  Methods of Maintain Fertility on Successful New Jersey Farms  The Choice of Crop Enterprises Based on Returns to Labor  The Field in the Farm Management Demonstration  The Packer and the Farmer  Cooperation with Farm Bureaus in Farm Management Demonstrations  Beef Cattle Feeding Costs  An Enterprise Cost Study in Kentucky  Price Trends  Agriculture and Prices  Wages of Management  Some Fundamental Problems in Marketing Farm Products  The Farm Power Problem  Farm Business Analysis Studies  Farm Management as Insurance for the Northern Great Plains Area  The Human Side of Farm Economy  Size of Initial Payment Required to Permit Purchase of a Farm in a Given Time  Are Farm Workers’ Tracts Advisable?  Labor and Material Requirements in the Production of Commercial Field Beans  Land Speculation  Status of Cooperative Live Stock Marketing in Missouri  Studies of Land Values in Iowa  The Length of the Farmers’ Working Day  Some Salient Features in Farm Organization  Changes in Farm Organization and Farm Practice as Shown by a Study of the Business Side of Farming in Several Section of the Country  Problems of the Farm Manager  Farm Tenancy in 1920  Social Significance of Hired Labor Small Holdings and Small Farms  Economic Conditions Causing the Two-Day Cattle Market at Chicago and the Effect of the Zoning Law  The Horse and the Farm Tractor  State Programs of Work in Farm Management and Farm Economics  Farm Labor Outlook  Can the Farms of the United States Pay for Themselves?  After-the-War Problems in Agriculture  Marketing as a Problem for Farm Demonstrators  Important Factors in the Cost of Growing Wheat  The Adjustment of the Farm Business to Declining Price Levels  Principles Involved in Fixing the Price of Milk  The Farm Labor Problem  Milk Production Costs  Farm Management Activities of County Agents  The Influence of Good Farm Organization in Costs of Production  Discussion Relating to Inward and Outward Movement of Agriculturists  American Association of Agricultural Legislation  Farm Labor Experience of the Employment Service of Canada  Primary versus Derivative Foods in Times of Food Shortage  Fundamentals of Cooperative Marketing  Methods of Maintain Fertility on Successful New Jersey Farms  The Choice of Crop Enterprises Based on Returns to Labor  The Field in the Farm Management Demonstration  The Packer and the Farmer  Cooperation with Farm Bureaus in Farm Management Demonstrations  Beef Cattle Feeding Costs  An Enterprise Cost Study in Kentucky  Price Trends  Agriculture and Prices  Wages of Management  Some Fundamental Problems in Marketing Farm Products  The Farm Power Problem  Farm Business Analysis Studies  Farm Management as Insurance for the Northern Great Plains Area  The Human Side of Farm Economy  Size of Initial Payment Required to Permit Purchase of a Farm in a Given Time  Are Farm Workers’ Tracts Advisable?  Labor and Material Requirements in the Production of Commercial Field Beans  Land Speculation  Status of Cooperative Live Stock Marketing in Missouri  Studies of Land Values in Iowa  The Length of the Farmers’ Working Day  Some Salient Features in Farm Organization  Changes in Farm Organization and Farm Practice as Shown by a Study of the Business Side of Farming in Several Section of the Country  Problems of the Farm Manager  Farm Tenancy in 1920  Social Significance of Hired Labor Small Holdings and Small Farms  Economic Conditions Causing the Two-Day Cattle Market at Chicago and the Effect of the Zoning Law  The Horse and the Farm Tractor  State Programs of Work in Farm Management and Farm Economics  While the agricultural economy has changed immensely and has become more globally competitive from the beginning of the profession, the issues from a research and education perspective remain vital and offer an opportunity for further contribution to knowledge. With the expected global population to be around 9.73 billion individuals by 2050 (United Nations 2015), the farm economy will need to be more productive both within the United States and around the globe. In addition to the increasing population, increasing income is allowing consumers around the world to diversify their consumption, including increasing demands for protein. Thus, increasing income and population both challenge the farm economy to produce the raw material to meet the increasing aggregate food demand and changing food preferences. A study from the FAO indicates that 90% of the additional production of crops need to come from increased efficiency, and another 10% needs to come from an increase in land allocated to agricultural production, with land needs estimated to be 120 million hectares (FAO 2009). According to that same study, cereal production needs to increase to about 3 billion tons by 2050 (from 2.1 billion metric tons) and meat production needs to increase to 470 million metric tons (from 200 million metric tons). As one considers increased land allocated to agriculture, arable land worldwide was 1.42 billion hectares as of 2014 (FAOSTAT 2017a). An increase of 120 million hectares represents an 8.5% increase in arable land. To put that increase into perspective, global arable land increased by 9.7% from 1961 through 2014. The top ten countries for arable land represent 58% of the world’s arable land. Additionally, an increase of 120 million hectares represents roughly adding a production base equivalent to 75% of the arable land of the United States (figure 1). Land area has remained fairly stable in most of the countries (figure 1), however, Brazil and Argentina saw high percentage increases in arable land from 1961 to 2014. Land use issues will be critical as the global farm economy expands to meet increased food demand. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Top ten countries for arable land from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT land data. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Top ten countries for arable land from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT land data. The competitiveness and the investment opportunities for the U.S. economy focus very much on the competitive nature of competitors. Looking at the major land holders besides the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, parts of India, Russia, and the Ukraine use farming systems very similar to those employed in U.S. agriculture, but limited information is available regarding economies of scale and how increased credit availability could affect that competitive balance. As future investments are considered in farm economies of different countries, information on that competitive balance is crucial for decision making. In addition to the competitive balance, the failure to meet the increased production necessary to support the added population and an increasingly well-off population may have effects beyond just the farm economy. During 2010, when global food prices spiked, Bjerga and Dreibus (2011) reported that three people were killed and 420 were injured in protests over milk and flour costs in Algeria, Serbia considered an export duty on wheat shipments, and India halted onion exports. National Public Radio reported that political unrest broke out in Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt due to food prices (Geewax 2011). Further, Bellemare (2015), examining the 1990 to 2011 period, found that food price levels lead to increased social unrest. However, Bellemare (2015) found that food price volatility did not lead to social unrest. The purpose of this article is to consider the future research issues revolving around the farm economy, a mainstay of the agricultural economics profession for over a century. Because of the dynamic nature and the increasing interconnectedness of the global food system, understanding issues associated both within the United States as well as in other countries and how they affect comparative advantage is important for strategic investment to meet the projected population increases. While much research has examined the farm economy in the United States, less research is available that examines the productivity change in Brazil and other countries. Whether the change is due to technical change or catching up becomes important in understanding the future competitive balance. The farm economy overlaps with many important research priorities. Important advances in understanding how economic choices are made by individuals, businesses, and governments are fundamental in meeting these challenges. In addition, advances in analytical methods and available data will allow a deeper understanding of the heterogeneous nature of the sector and an improved ability to anticipate the economic choices made by economics agents related to the food and agricultural sector. The future will also inevitably involve a more multidisciplinary approach to understand and model the complexity and feedback mechanisms facing the agricultural sector in a more forward-looking manner. Global Issues Total U.S. arable land represents roughly 11% of global arable land, with the rest of the world consisting of 89% (FAOSTAT 2017a). From a production standpoint, the rest of the world produces more than 90% of total rice, wheat, and pork (table 2). The rest of the world produces between 80% and 90% of beef, milk, and chicken. The rest of the world produces roughly 65% of corn and soybeans. While the U.S. farm economy is important, when looking at the global production of food necessary to meet global demand, understanding the rest of the world in addition to the United States is paramount to understanding future investments in the farm economy and appropriate U.S. agricultural policy. Table 2 Global Percentage of Production Excluding the United States (2014) Commodity  Rest of the World Production  Corn  65.2%  Rice  98.6%  Soybean  65.1%  Wheat  92.4%  Beef  82.3%  Milk  85.7%  Pork  91.0%  Poultry (Chicken)  82.3%  Commodity  Rest of the World Production  Corn  65.2%  Rice  98.6%  Soybean  65.1%  Wheat  92.4%  Beef  82.3%  Milk  85.7%  Pork  91.0%  Poultry (Chicken)  82.3%  Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock and crop production data. Supply and conditional input demand response to changes in input or output prices rests upon the shape of the production frontier interacting with a behavioral objective of cost minimization or profit maximization. Further complicating our understanding of supply response is that in several countries agricultural land is a non-tradable input rather than a market-determined input due to policy constraints. In addition, other inputs are often constrained or are produced in a household context, leading to a modeling approach that may differ from the behavioral assumption of cost minimization or profit maximization. Estimating supply response for these agricultural economies becomes more complex but nonetheless important. The ability to convert inputs into outputs has been a fundamental component in studying the farm economy. Current effort is focused on understanding comparative advantage by estimating cost structures in different countries through projects such as Agri Benchmark (2017). The goals of Agri Benchmark are to understand developments in global agriculture, examine the technological and political framework of farms, and provide information for clients on the global agricultural economy. Understanding the production, cost, and/or profit frontiers provides information regarding future trends that are critical to understanding the ability meet food demand through increased efficiency, as well as increased scale—both of which may have detrimental environmental impacts (Perry, Moschini, and Hennessy 2016). Over periods of time, improvement can occur in yield (figure 2). From 1961 to 2014, world average soybean yield increased from 11,287 to 26,067 hectograms per hectare (FAOSTAT 2017b). During the same time period, the yield in North America increased from 16,932 to 31,669, while the yield in South America increased from 11,458 to 28,071 hectograms per hectare. Under what conditions the relaxation of economic constraints could result in similar changes in corn production in different countries has important implications for policy development in the United States. Understanding the ability of other regions to replicate the South American experience with soybean yields or other agricultural crops will have important impacts on the competitiveness, investment opportunities, and credit needs for U.S. agriculture. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Global soybean yield from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT crop production data. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Global soybean yield from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT crop production data. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Global beef yield from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock production primary data. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Global beef yield from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock production primary data. On the animal product side, from 1961 to 2014, global average beef yield increased from 1,601 to 2,155 hectograms per animal (FAOSTAT 2017c). The yield in North America increased from 2,118 to 3,730 hectograms per animal, while the yield in South America increased from 1,976 to 2,320 hectograms per animal over the same time period (figure 3). In the case of beef, the gap in the production per animal in North America increased over the period. Consistent with crop production, the gap across regions for other animal products has decreased. There are explanations for those differences; however, the profitability of investment in certain sectors of the U.S. farm economy relies on expectations for how the competitive balance is expected to change. The ability to produce more output per unit of input is important to meeting the crop and animal product needs with a growing population. Table 3 displays the changes from 1961 to 2014 for selected crop and animal products. The worldwide annual output change per hectare for crop production ranged from 1.5% in soybeans to 2.1% for wheat. The annual change in animal products per animal increased from 0.3% for pork to 0.7% for chicken. Generally, the output per unit of input for crop products has increased faster than for animal products. In addition, there is much variability between regions of the world, with some regions experiencing nearly a 3% annual growth in output in crops, and some in excess of 2% annual for animal products. Table 3 Annual Yield Growth for Crop and Animal Products, 1961–2014 Region  Maize  Soybean  Wheat  Rice  Beef  Chicken  Pork  Milk  World  1.95%  1.52%  2.05%  1.67%  0.57%  0.66%  0.34%  0.57%  Africa  1.23%  2.18%  2.25%  0.69%  0.20%  0.73%  0.07%  0.22%  Asia  2.87%  1.39%  2.65%  1.73%  0.91%  0.51%  0.96%  2.01%  Europe  2.11%  2.44%  2.29%  1.07%  1.11%  0.49%  0.31%  1.83%  N. America  1.66%  1.13%  1.39%  1.41%  1.09%  1.06%  0.81%  2.20%  Oceania  2.40%  2.35%  0.91%  1.46%  1.00%  0.77%  0.60%  1.34%  S. America  2.62%  1.77%  1.46%  2.14%  0.53%  1.21%  0.51%  1.03%  Region  Maize  Soybean  Wheat  Rice  Beef  Chicken  Pork  Milk  World  1.95%  1.52%  2.05%  1.67%  0.57%  0.66%  0.34%  0.57%  Africa  1.23%  2.18%  2.25%  0.69%  0.20%  0.73%  0.07%  0.22%  Asia  2.87%  1.39%  2.65%  1.73%  0.91%  0.51%  0.96%  2.01%  Europe  2.11%  2.44%  2.29%  1.07%  1.11%  0.49%  0.31%  1.83%  N. America  1.66%  1.13%  1.39%  1.41%  1.09%  1.06%  0.81%  2.20%  Oceania  2.40%  2.35%  0.91%  1.46%  1.00%  0.77%  0.60%  1.34%  S. America  2.62%  1.77%  1.46%  2.14%  0.53%  1.21%  0.51%  1.03%  Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock and crop production data. Work by Ball, Schimmelpfenning, and Wang (2013) and Ball et al. (2016) focuses on whether U.S. agricultural productivity and productivity in other countries is slowing. This research has often been on an aggregate level. However, the relative change in productivity for different agricultural outputs is the level at which investment is often made. To illustrate this discussion, the change in output per hectare for crops on an annual basis for the last 20 years is less than the 1961 to 2014 period (table 4). The only regions that have experienced an increase in the growth rate of converting land to output are Africa for maize, rice and soybean, Europe for rice, Oceania for wheat, and South America for maize and rice. The growth in output per animal is higher for chicken and milk for the world for the most recent 20-year period than over the 53-year period. Several animal products in different geographical regions have experienced faster growth in the production of output per animal unit in the most recent 20-year period. Table 4 Annual Yield Growth for Crop and Animal Products, 1994–2014 Region  Maize  Soybean  Wheat  Rice  Beef  Chicken  Pork  Milk  World  1.59%  0.92%  1.25%  1.12%  0.24%  0.86%  0.11%  0.68%  Africa  1.72%  3.12%  2.06%  0.83%  0.50%  0.85%  0.01%  0.64%  Asia  1.85%  0.10%  1.47%  1.11%  0.27%  0.33%  −0.01%  2.20%  Europe  1.67%  0.99%  1.02%  2.26%  0.89%  0.77%  0.32%  2.66%  N. America  1.02%  0.81%  1.22%  1.40%  0.90%  0.85%  0.75%  1.65%  Oceania  1.40%  0.75%  0.98%  1.06%  0.32%  1.47%  0.37%  0.90%  S. America  3.44%  1.09%  1.41%  3.24%  0.53%  2.00%  0.56%  2.14%  Region  Maize  Soybean  Wheat  Rice  Beef  Chicken  Pork  Milk  World  1.59%  0.92%  1.25%  1.12%  0.24%  0.86%  0.11%  0.68%  Africa  1.72%  3.12%  2.06%  0.83%  0.50%  0.85%  0.01%  0.64%  Asia  1.85%  0.10%  1.47%  1.11%  0.27%  0.33%  −0.01%  2.20%  Europe  1.67%  0.99%  1.02%  2.26%  0.89%  0.77%  0.32%  2.66%  N. America  1.02%  0.81%  1.22%  1.40%  0.90%  0.85%  0.75%  1.65%  Oceania  1.40%  0.75%  0.98%  1.06%  0.32%  1.47%  0.37%  0.90%  S. America  3.44%  1.09%  1.41%  3.24%  0.53%  2.00%  0.56%  2.14%  Note: Bold numbers indicate a percentage increase greater than the 1961 to 1994 average. Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock and crop production data. Changes in yield over time is only a partial measure of productivity. While the input-output information provides some indication regarding productivity growth in crop and animal products, the analysis is not complete as it does not provide information regarding the use of inputs and the cost of those inputs (Mugera, Langemeier, and Ojede 2016). Gaitán-Cremaschi, Meuwissen, and Oude Lansink (2017) use productivity measures to benchmark sustainability. Alston reviewed the status of agricultural innovation and productivity, including Alston (2017) questions that are currently unanswered, for example whether farmers benefit from public agricultural research and development, and whether U.S. agricultural productivity growth has slowed in recent decades. Alston argues that U.S. farmers as a group have been made worse off by changes in technology, but that they cannot afford to cease to innovate. Finally, Alston argues that the source of data is important regarding whether productivity growth is increasing or decreasing. Technical change and productivity growth from production and cost frontiers work will continue to provide that information and is a key issue that needs to be addressed—not only in the United States but worldwide. Comparative advantage is partially determined by productivity improvement over time. Research is needed at the aggregate country level as discussed by Alston (2017), but is also needed at a more disaggregate level as illustrated above. Choosing appropriate enterprises at the farm level and providing this information to policy makers is important information necessary to efficiently invest in farm economies, not only in the United States but in farm economies of other countries. Domestic Issues The agricultural economy, due to the inelastic nature of demand for food and the competitive nature of production, is subject to volatility in output prices and farm income. The U.S. agricultural economy needs to be resilient to adjust from a situation of high commodity prices and strong net income from 2007 through 2013 to a situation of increased farm financial stress due to robust domestic supplies and decreasing global demand, resulting in falling commodity prices and leading to a decline in net farm income for four consecutive years through 2017. Weakness in the U.S. farm economy causes cash-strapped producers to use working capital to meet immediate financial obligations. Farm land values decline and rental rates also decline. In this situation, farmer repayment situations become more tenuous. At the same time, opportunities abound for the farm economy if farmers are resilient through periods of abundance and periods of stress. The agricultural sector of the United States has evolved and continues to evolve through major transformations through increased labor efficiency, mechanization, and technological change. In this changing environment, farmers must consider producing alternative crops, using new technologies and management approaches, and changing production patterns. Farm economy issues are an important area of policy consideration within the United States. Roughly every five years, the United States establishes a Farm Bill that consist of issues that are critical for it to remain a leader in the global agricultural economy. The 2014 Farm Bill had twelve titles consisting of commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, research and extension, forestry, energy, horticulture, crop insurance, and miscellaneous (Chite 2014). Of the 12 titles, several focus directly on the farm economy and as such provide the opportunity to be informed by agricultural economics research. Commodity Programs U.S. commodity programs have shifted from direct farm payments to crop insurance subsidies since 2000 (figure 4) based on data from the USDA Economic Research Service (2017b) and the USDA Risk Management Agency (2017). The commodity programs are total direct payments minus conservation payments and supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance. Federal payments to farmers were approximately $24.2 billion in 2000, reached a peak of $26.7 billion in 2005, and were $16.9 billion in 2015. Crop insurance subsidies were about 4% of payments in 2000 and increased to about 36% in 2015. Commodity payments were about 54.3% in 2000, increased to 69% in 2005, and decreased to 31.9% in 2015. Conservation payments have increased steadily over time as a percentage of total expenditures, beginning at 6.7% in 2000 and ending at 21.4% in 2015. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide U.S. federal direct farm rogram payments and crop insurance subsidies Source: Raw data from USDA ERS and USDA RMA. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide U.S. federal direct farm rogram payments and crop insurance subsidies Source: Raw data from USDA ERS and USDA RMA. The commodity title has traditionally been an area of agricultural economics research and is likely to remain so in the future. The policy objectives of farm programs have the possibility of being undermined because of limited access to equity markets due to farmers balancing business risk and financial risk (Featherstone et al. 1988). Thus, it is not clear whether farm programs produce their intended outcomes. Important research topics include those that examine public support for agricultural programs and the implications of alternative agricultural program support mechanisms, including the complete elimination of farm programs. The 2014 legislation moved from a support mechanism based on fixed direct payments to counter-cyclical programs, one focused on price (price loss coverage) and one based on revenue (agriculture risk coverage). The implications of this shift have broad ramifications, ranging from the effect on household income, the effect of crop mix or livestock enterprise choice and possible trade legislation impacts (Serra et al. 2009), to the effect on real estate values (Kirwan and Roberts 2016; Chambers and Voica 2017). Crop Insurance Issues Interlaced with the commodity title in the farm bill is the crop insurance title. Crop insurance has become more important with the advent of revenue coverage (figure 4). Policy issues include the level of subsidy provided to farmers, especially with regard to whether there is a need for means testing. Balancing that effort is the need to keep enrollment high within the program to broaden the acreage covered for sustainable re-insurance markets. Adverse selection, policy pricing, yield modeling, appropriate levels of compensation for agents, and the appropriate amount of subsidy to farmers (if any) remain important research issues (Woodard and Verteramo-Chiu 2017; Cooper, Tran, and Wallander 2017). Understanding farmer demand for crop insurance products is another issue that could benefit from additional research (Sherrick et al. 2004a; Sherrick et al. 2004b; Du, Feng, and Hennessy 2017). Support both the commodity title and the crop insurance title is not only provided by farmers but also the agricultural financial services industry. Revenue coverage provides protection from a risk-balancing framework that may allow some farmers access to credit at the margin. Credit Issues The credit title is also related to the commodity title and the crop insurance title through the mechanism of risk balancing. One of the missions of the Farm Service Agency is as a lender of last resort providing credit to individuals that are unable to obtain credit from commercial sources (Dodson and Ahrendsen 2017; Rusiana, Brewer, and Escalante 2017). Specifically, the Farm Bill authorizes that either direct or guaranteed loans are provided to those denied credit by other lenders that have to capacity to repay (Chite 2014). A special focus has been on young and beginning farmers, along with other socially-disadvantaged groups (Katchova and Ahearn 2017). Within the broader context, credit and the ability to raise outside equity capital are important research topics in light of consolidation occurring in production agriculture (Featherstone and Sherrick 1992). The entrance of several nontraditional lenders as suppliers of capital has led to a system where some lenders are regulated differently than other lenders (Johnson, Boehlje, and Gunderson 2017; Featherstone, Wilson, and Zollinger 2017). Many of these new entrants have entered during periods of relatively high profitability, leading to some concern regarding staying power in the event of more difficult lending situations (Dressler and Tauer 2017). The diverse financial products used to finance agriculture adds complexity and alters traditional risk-return scenarios. According to the USDA Economic Research Service (2017b), in 2015 farm real estate constituted about 82% of the value of the assets on the balance sheet, and the debt on those real estate assets represents about 57% of debt held by farmers. Outside entities, such as Chess Ag, Farmland Partners, Gladstone, etc., have focused on agricultural land investment due to competitive market return (NCREIF 2017), with various arrangements regarding how that land is farmed either via custom farming or traditional cash or share rental arrangements. This has led to multi-year cash leasing arrangements that are essentially debt instruments. With the downturn in profitability, the credit mechanisms become more important. This can be compounded by a rapid increase in land values that occurred from 2007 to 2014. As that occurs, financial service providers become concerned with potential downward adjustment in land values. Featherstone and Baker (1987) argue that the farmland market has a propensity to asset bubbles, where the reaction to a shock in the market can lead to asset value increases for several years, followed by a rapid decrease in asset values when it becomes recognized by market participants as being transitory. Asset markets in general have a propensity for bubbles. Certainly research in this market anomaly is relevant not only for the farm economy but also for the broader economy (Bierlen and Featherstone 1998). Bioenergy Issues One of the major differences between the farm crisis in the 1980s and the situation in the 2010s was the development of the ethanol industry where about one-quarter of U.S. corn production is used in the production of ethanol. Whether that demand placed a floor under prices for agricultural commodities, specifically corn, is an open question. The relationship between the general energy market prices and agricultural commodity prices has been a topic of study. The 2014 Farm Bill contains an energy title that incentivizes research and development of biofuels and other renewable energy products (Chite 2014). There has been a focus on cellulosic biofuel production. While the farm bill certainly focuses on the development of biofuels, the renewable fuels initiative is likely more relevant for placing a floor under commodity prices, especially corn. In addition to ethanol, biodiesel is also an important renewable energy product that provides an alternative market for agricultural fats and oils. The interaction between renewable energy and the effect on agricultural markets will continue to be an issue of importance into the next decade (Motamed, McPhail, and Williams 2017). Although energy is addressed in the farm bill, the Environmental Protection Agency and the decision they make with regard to the Renewable Fuels Standard has a larger impact than the USDA (Tyner and Herath 2018). Macroeconomic Issues Tax, trade, or other policies that affect interest rates and ultimately exchange rates may have a greater impact on the agricultural economy than the farm bill. Much of neoclassical economics assume a no-tax economy. However, tax policy leads to changes in the organizational structure of farms as farmers optimize after-tax revenue. The ability to organize as a C corporation, an S corporation, or a limited liability company all affect the structure of U.S. agriculture production (Featherstone et al. 2012). Tax policy may shift the economies of scale for U.S. agriculture production. The fixed costs and the resulting benefits from separating a farm into a agricultural production firm and a land-holding company to manage tax and legal liabilities is one way that the cost curve can be shifted. Understanding unintended consequences from tax policy is an area in need of further research. Trade policy, inflation, and interest rate policy ultimately affect exchange rates. Exchange rate differences among countries may shift comparative advantage. For example, a policy that increases interest rates in the United States will strengthen the U.S. dollar. Ultimately, this may affect agricultural commodity prices and the well-being of the U.S. agricultural economy. An increase in interest rates could have dramatic effects on asset (land) pricing and ultimately the collateral that provides the capital that many producers rely on. The unintended consequences of macroeconomic policy on the farm economy are important research issues. The Food Supply Chain Saitone and Sexton (2017) argue that the evidence in concentration implies the food processing and retailing sectors seems to have slowed. In addition, these authors argue that consolidation in food marketing has generally benefited consumers. However, they argue that the focus may need to move away from consumers and into the farm-product procurement markets. This has left farmers with fewer sales outlets with more vertical control. While this has increased the efficiency of the food supply chain, Saitone and Sexton suggest that the supply chain focuses on the most efficient farmers, leading to uneven market access for many small farms. In addition, issues with regard to food pricing near the consumer level continues to be important (Richards, Gomez, and Printezis 2016). With the food system becoming more consolidated, monopsony and/or oligopsony market power can alter the output supply and other input demand elasticities for farmers (Yamaura and Featherstone 2015) depending on the elasticity of the supply curve. Market power held by purchasers of agricultural commodities or sellers of agricultural inputs can adversely affect the producers’ well-being. The use of vertical coordination mechanisms such as contract pricing varies widely across sectors within agriculture (Saitone and Sexton 2017). Stiegert, Shi, and Chavas (2010) examined the U.S. seed industry with regard to pricing, trait-bundling, efficiency, and market power. These authors found (through a review of a number of articles) the use of sub-additive pricing in stacked seeds (Shi, Stiegert, and Chavas 2011) and that concentration of the seed industry has contributed to higher seed prices though concentration, which can also be associated with efficiency gains (Shi, Chavas, and Stiegert 2010). Certainly understanding the market effects of mergers in the seed industry and other farm input industries and output markets are important areas of study as policy makers react to further consolidation. Infrastructure investment is a popular policy tool. Broadband access is one infrastructure investment supported by farmers. Kim and Orazem (2017) found that broadband access increases the likelihood of economic activity in rural areas through the impacts of agglomeration economies. These authors found that the largest effect was in the education and health services industry, while the smallest effect was in manufacturing. The availability of broadband services will affect the ability of individuals in rural areas to make the most out of big data applications and potential off-farm business or employment opportunities. Human Resource Issues Other policies that may have unintended consequences revolve around human resources, including bringing a new generation of individuals into production agriculture, issues regarding the supply and demand for labor (Fan, Pena, and Perloff 2016), and health insurance availability and affordability. Over the next decade, these issues may be addressed by the U.S. Congress, and evidence-based research by agricultural and applied economists may inform policy. The aging farmer has been an issue that has attracted attention for a number of years (Clawson 1963) in addition to the discussion of barriers to entry for beginning farmers (Ahearn and Newton 2009). Establishing a successful farming business requires equipment and operating assets, and either rented land or owned acreage. Many beginning farmers find that one or more of these assets can be severely constrained due to a lack of financing; thus, the lack of entry into farming by younger farmers is a concern that has been addressed in the Farm Bill (Chite 2014). Concerns regarding where future farmers will come from, the public policy alternatives that would facilitate the entry of young entrepreneurs into farming, the sources of start-up financing, and tax reforms/incentives that can be established that decrease the financial risk to starting a farming operation are all issues of concern. Farm labor is an important issue affecting the farm economy. Whether it involves the uniqueness of the farm labor market (Fisher and Knutson 2013), immigration issues in the farm economy (Martin 2013), and/or whether there is a farm labor shortage (Hertz and Zahniser 2013) are important issues, especially within some sectors of the farm economy. Included in the labor conundrum are issues of appropriate compensation and incentive structures for farm labor. Farm labor and/or mechanized innovations are both important contributors to the financial well-being of the farm. Issues such as the role of hired labor in agriculture, and the trend and future for mechanization in farm production are important research topics. The capital-labor tradeoff has been an issue for decades and in many respects society has benefited from the substitution of labor with capital (Barkley 1990). Will this trend continue? How quickly robotics and other specialized capital machinery can be developed in a cost-effective manner is an important issue for many farmers in the future. The issue of health insurance availability and affordability for farmers is an issue affecting the structure of U.S. production agriculture (Ahearn, Williamson, and Black 2015). Many farmers buy insurance from a small group pool, in individual insurance markets, or have health insurance through off-farm employment. The current system has limited choices in rural areas, thus disparately affecting those employed in farming in those regions where non-farm employment opportunities are limited. Appropriate mechanisms for health insurance and health care given the aging farm population have important implications for the U.S. farm economy. Advances in Understanding the Farm Economy Given the current farm economy priorities and comparing them to issues that were addressed in the first issues of the profession (table 1) can lead to questions regarding the progress made in understanding the agricultural economy. While the topics are similar, the data, the analytical techniques, and the conceptual economic models are much improved. The same concerns could also be expressed with regard to most agricultural disciplines, as agronomists are still studying wheat, animal scientists are still studying cattle, and agricultural engineers are still studying mechanization. Because of the nature of economics and the desire to satisfy unlimited wants in a world with limited resources, the issues and priorities related to the farm economy will be important in the future as they have in the past, although the tools and methods will be more precise. The manner in which society and individuals consider certain issues can adjust quickly as information is discovered and preferences adjust. Several areas exist where the agricultural economics profession can provide leadership in general economics while providing valuable insights to policymakers. A deeper understanding of decision-making in a risky environment is important to predicting and understanding decisions made by economic agents (Serra, Goodwin, and Featherstone 2011; Just and Just 2016). Risk has often been considered at an individual firm or agent level, although there is evidence that within supply chains, risk-bearing activity is managed at different levels within that supply chain. A more general approach to understanding the appropriate risks that a firm should take within the farm economy is an important issue for providing insight into the farm economy. Much of the effort on decision-making under risk has focused on risk preferences. In the predominant model of expected utility, the study of trade-off between choices made by agents has been studied in-depth by economists (Buschena and Zilberman 1994). For those that have concerns with the expected utility model, prospect theory has been introduced as an alternative (Babcock 2015). Perhaps less understood is how economics agents measure subjective probability information (Sherrick 2002). Two decision makers facing the same conditions may make different decisions, and while some of that difference could be explained by risk preferences, perhaps a more important difference may be how those economic agents perceive the distribution of outcomes. Another important priority are the appropriate risks a firm should internalize and those that they should place on other entities, including issues regarding the value of liquidity and the development and success of new markets to bear risk. Liquidity provides a safety mechanism for firms to weather difficult times and to make timely decisions as market opportunities arise. At the same time, liquid assets usually earn a low return, if any. Thus, a general understanding of the benefits and costs of holding liquidity in the context of a general lack of access to equity to appropriately balance risk will continue to be important in the future. Part of that understanding is the new markets that need to develop and the success of those markets. For example, would a completely private crop insurance market for the purpose of managing yield risk develop if policymakers would modify access to the federal program? If so, what would the necessary size of that market be, and what are other characteristics needed for that new instrument to be successful? Concepts such as quasi-rationality are tied into the broader economy, indicating that financial systems are prone to crisis due to asset bubbles that create issues in asset prices; important in the U.S. farm crisis in the 1980s (Featherstone and Baker 1987). More fully understanding how farmers make investment decisions can help to address the issues of asset bubbles and the appropriate policy mechanisms to mitigate the negative effects of these market anomalies. Behavioral economics may help the profession solve these issues in the context of the farm economy. With advances in understanding farmers’ decision-making, advances in data and methods have advanced to test this new understanding. With ever-increasing computing power, the curse of dimensionality will continue to lessen, thus allowing for analysis of larger data sets. The profession and the agricultural economics profession as they develop management information using data analytics will frame management and policy options for those in the farm economy (Coble et al. 2018). Harnessing the information within the data will improve the efficiency of the farm economy. To obtain the necessary data to make advances, private/public partnerships will become more necessary. The ability to obtain information is becoming more difficult with the increasing complexity of farms. In addition, private firms are collecting more information via technology. Obtaining access to that data will involve establishing partnerships with firms such as Granular, Climate Corporation, Answer Plot, etc. Engineering methods of economic analysis may become more common in the analysis of the farm economy, especially in the areas of crop and animal growth, the spread of disease, and other technical relationships that are better understood and modeled via biophysical simulation models. The ability to understand the complementarity or substitutability of inputs or outputs will be measured with more precision. These advances will likely occur from using more multidisciplinary research approaches. While the foundations of technical change will come from advances in agronomy, animal sciences, agricultural engineering or psychology, agricultural and applied economists are critical to transforming technical relationships into policy analysis and management advice in the context of a market economy. Communicating and Educating Boland and Crespi (2010) found that the number of PhD graduates in the field of agricultural economics has declined since 1997. In addition, these authors document that dissertation research has increasingly moved away from farm economy issues to topics on natural resources and environmental economics. As such, there is less human capital focused on farm economy issues. This creates a need for those that work on farm economy issues to communicate more broadly to others. This communication will need to use multiple strategies, including traditional sources such as meetings and conferences, print, radio, and television. In addition, on-demand media available on the Internet will increase in importance. Websites such as FarmDoc, eXtension, and AgManager will become more important in communicating farm economy findings, allowing information to be assessable across geographic boundaries. Perry (2010) documents the downward trend in “agricultural economics” faculty numbers nationwide. In addition, the number of economists working full-time at the USDA Economic Research Service has declined (Perry 2010). At the same time, the number of undergraduate degrees in agricultural economics roughly doubled from 1970 to 2003 (Perry 2010). This author argues that within the profession there is a difference in orientation between graduate and undergraduate students’ focus. Post-undergraduate employment opportunities are plentiful in the traditional farm economy and closely-related fields (agribusiness) and will continue to be given the increased needs of food production by 2050. The curriculum demanded by industry will focus on applied problem solving, data analysis skills, understanding business and economics, understanding the linkage between food and agricultural technology, and economics coupled with soft-skills such as oral and written communication skills and the ability to work with others in an increasingly diverse world. Concluding Thoughts Research in farm economics will increase in importance over the next few decades. With the projected addition of two billion people by 2050 (which will be roughly split between Asia and Africa) increasing the production of food to supply that population will be a challenge. At the same time, a growing middle class will have changing food preferences and further stress the productive capabilities of agriculture. Research priorities include increasing productivity and cost efficiency on current land resources while carefully adding land resources across the globe. Understanding the shape of the production frontier is imperative as policymakers consider regulating or restricting the use of certain inputs. Identifying methods for increased efficiency and the appropriate inputs to apply and the outputs to produce in the context of markets is an important role for farm economists. Providing unbiased objective analysis to policymakers with regard to commodity programs, insurance markets, agricultural credit, and the production of bioenergy are important issues that directly affect the farm economy. The effect of macroeconomic policy such as taxes, trade, and monetary policy on the farm economy will continue to increase in the future. Given the mismatch between the location of global population and the location of excess agricultural production, understanding comparative advantage and the food and agribusiness supply chain will be paramount. At the same time, research focusing on human resource issues, including the availability of agricultural labor, aging farm ownership in many parts of the world, and the difficulty for beginning farmers to attract capital will be needed. Access to health insurance and health care is also an important research issue for the farm economy. The ability to manage risk, the increasing complexity of farm operations, the ability of the farm sector to be nimble to changes in individual and societal preferences, and the efficient discovery of information through efficient markets offer a wealth of research opportunities. The increased ability to capture data and improved computational ability to analyze data within the context of conceptual economic models offers the opportunity to inform managers within the agricultural sector, consumers, and policymakers. The farm economy is a priority for future research and education. 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The Farm Economy: Future Research and Education Priorities

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Oxford University Press
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Abstract

Abstract Research priorities for the U.S. farm economy include increasing the productivity and cost efficiency on current land resources while understanding production agriculture across the globe. Providing unbiased objective analysis to policymakers with regard to commodity programs, insurance markets, agricultural credit, and the production of bioenergy are important issues that directly affect not only the U.S. farm economy but other agricultural regions. The ability to manage risk, the increasing complexity of farm operations, the ability of the U.S. farm sector to be nimble to changes in individual and societal preferences, and the efficient discovery of information through efficient markets offer a wealth of research opportunities. The study of the farm economy has been a focus of agricultural economists since the profession’s inception in 1910; the Journal of Farm Economics was first published in 1919. As future research and education priorities are considered, the articles from the first three volumes are instructive. While these articles addressed a different era, the topics addressed are not all that different from the problems that agricultural economists are currently addressing (see table 1). The issues addressed nearly 100 years ago include the supply of farm labor and the compensation of that labor, the cost of production of various enterprises, agricultural land speculation, and the inability to start farming with only income generation from that farm, adoption of technology, marketing issues including market concentration, and issues associated with farm organization (table 1). Table 1 Articles in the Journal of Farm Economics, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 Farm Labor Outlook  Can the Farms of the United States Pay for Themselves?  After-the-War Problems in Agriculture  Marketing as a Problem for Farm Demonstrators  Important Factors in the Cost of Growing Wheat  The Adjustment of the Farm Business to Declining Price Levels  Principles Involved in Fixing the Price of Milk  The Farm Labor Problem  Milk Production Costs  Farm Management Activities of County Agents  The Influence of Good Farm Organization in Costs of Production  Discussion Relating to Inward and Outward Movement of Agriculturists  American Association of Agricultural Legislation  Farm Labor Experience of the Employment Service of Canada  Primary versus Derivative Foods in Times of Food Shortage  Fundamentals of Cooperative Marketing  Methods of Maintain Fertility on Successful New Jersey Farms  The Choice of Crop Enterprises Based on Returns to Labor  The Field in the Farm Management Demonstration  The Packer and the Farmer  Cooperation with Farm Bureaus in Farm Management Demonstrations  Beef Cattle Feeding Costs  An Enterprise Cost Study in Kentucky  Price Trends  Agriculture and Prices  Wages of Management  Some Fundamental Problems in Marketing Farm Products  The Farm Power Problem  Farm Business Analysis Studies  Farm Management as Insurance for the Northern Great Plains Area  The Human Side of Farm Economy  Size of Initial Payment Required to Permit Purchase of a Farm in a Given Time  Are Farm Workers’ Tracts Advisable?  Labor and Material Requirements in the Production of Commercial Field Beans  Land Speculation  Status of Cooperative Live Stock Marketing in Missouri  Studies of Land Values in Iowa  The Length of the Farmers’ Working Day  Some Salient Features in Farm Organization  Changes in Farm Organization and Farm Practice as Shown by a Study of the Business Side of Farming in Several Section of the Country  Problems of the Farm Manager  Farm Tenancy in 1920  Social Significance of Hired Labor Small Holdings and Small Farms  Economic Conditions Causing the Two-Day Cattle Market at Chicago and the Effect of the Zoning Law  The Horse and the Farm Tractor  State Programs of Work in Farm Management and Farm Economics  Farm Labor Outlook  Can the Farms of the United States Pay for Themselves?  After-the-War Problems in Agriculture  Marketing as a Problem for Farm Demonstrators  Important Factors in the Cost of Growing Wheat  The Adjustment of the Farm Business to Declining Price Levels  Principles Involved in Fixing the Price of Milk  The Farm Labor Problem  Milk Production Costs  Farm Management Activities of County Agents  The Influence of Good Farm Organization in Costs of Production  Discussion Relating to Inward and Outward Movement of Agriculturists  American Association of Agricultural Legislation  Farm Labor Experience of the Employment Service of Canada  Primary versus Derivative Foods in Times of Food Shortage  Fundamentals of Cooperative Marketing  Methods of Maintain Fertility on Successful New Jersey Farms  The Choice of Crop Enterprises Based on Returns to Labor  The Field in the Farm Management Demonstration  The Packer and the Farmer  Cooperation with Farm Bureaus in Farm Management Demonstrations  Beef Cattle Feeding Costs  An Enterprise Cost Study in Kentucky  Price Trends  Agriculture and Prices  Wages of Management  Some Fundamental Problems in Marketing Farm Products  The Farm Power Problem  Farm Business Analysis Studies  Farm Management as Insurance for the Northern Great Plains Area  The Human Side of Farm Economy  Size of Initial Payment Required to Permit Purchase of a Farm in a Given Time  Are Farm Workers’ Tracts Advisable?  Labor and Material Requirements in the Production of Commercial Field Beans  Land Speculation  Status of Cooperative Live Stock Marketing in Missouri  Studies of Land Values in Iowa  The Length of the Farmers’ Working Day  Some Salient Features in Farm Organization  Changes in Farm Organization and Farm Practice as Shown by a Study of the Business Side of Farming in Several Section of the Country  Problems of the Farm Manager  Farm Tenancy in 1920  Social Significance of Hired Labor Small Holdings and Small Farms  Economic Conditions Causing the Two-Day Cattle Market at Chicago and the Effect of the Zoning Law  The Horse and the Farm Tractor  State Programs of Work in Farm Management and Farm Economics  While the agricultural economy has changed immensely and has become more globally competitive from the beginning of the profession, the issues from a research and education perspective remain vital and offer an opportunity for further contribution to knowledge. With the expected global population to be around 9.73 billion individuals by 2050 (United Nations 2015), the farm economy will need to be more productive both within the United States and around the globe. In addition to the increasing population, increasing income is allowing consumers around the world to diversify their consumption, including increasing demands for protein. Thus, increasing income and population both challenge the farm economy to produce the raw material to meet the increasing aggregate food demand and changing food preferences. A study from the FAO indicates that 90% of the additional production of crops need to come from increased efficiency, and another 10% needs to come from an increase in land allocated to agricultural production, with land needs estimated to be 120 million hectares (FAO 2009). According to that same study, cereal production needs to increase to about 3 billion tons by 2050 (from 2.1 billion metric tons) and meat production needs to increase to 470 million metric tons (from 200 million metric tons). As one considers increased land allocated to agriculture, arable land worldwide was 1.42 billion hectares as of 2014 (FAOSTAT 2017a). An increase of 120 million hectares represents an 8.5% increase in arable land. To put that increase into perspective, global arable land increased by 9.7% from 1961 through 2014. The top ten countries for arable land represent 58% of the world’s arable land. Additionally, an increase of 120 million hectares represents roughly adding a production base equivalent to 75% of the arable land of the United States (figure 1). Land area has remained fairly stable in most of the countries (figure 1), however, Brazil and Argentina saw high percentage increases in arable land from 1961 to 2014. Land use issues will be critical as the global farm economy expands to meet increased food demand. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Top ten countries for arable land from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT land data. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Top ten countries for arable land from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT land data. The competitiveness and the investment opportunities for the U.S. economy focus very much on the competitive nature of competitors. Looking at the major land holders besides the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, parts of India, Russia, and the Ukraine use farming systems very similar to those employed in U.S. agriculture, but limited information is available regarding economies of scale and how increased credit availability could affect that competitive balance. As future investments are considered in farm economies of different countries, information on that competitive balance is crucial for decision making. In addition to the competitive balance, the failure to meet the increased production necessary to support the added population and an increasingly well-off population may have effects beyond just the farm economy. During 2010, when global food prices spiked, Bjerga and Dreibus (2011) reported that three people were killed and 420 were injured in protests over milk and flour costs in Algeria, Serbia considered an export duty on wheat shipments, and India halted onion exports. National Public Radio reported that political unrest broke out in Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt due to food prices (Geewax 2011). Further, Bellemare (2015), examining the 1990 to 2011 period, found that food price levels lead to increased social unrest. However, Bellemare (2015) found that food price volatility did not lead to social unrest. The purpose of this article is to consider the future research issues revolving around the farm economy, a mainstay of the agricultural economics profession for over a century. Because of the dynamic nature and the increasing interconnectedness of the global food system, understanding issues associated both within the United States as well as in other countries and how they affect comparative advantage is important for strategic investment to meet the projected population increases. While much research has examined the farm economy in the United States, less research is available that examines the productivity change in Brazil and other countries. Whether the change is due to technical change or catching up becomes important in understanding the future competitive balance. The farm economy overlaps with many important research priorities. Important advances in understanding how economic choices are made by individuals, businesses, and governments are fundamental in meeting these challenges. In addition, advances in analytical methods and available data will allow a deeper understanding of the heterogeneous nature of the sector and an improved ability to anticipate the economic choices made by economics agents related to the food and agricultural sector. The future will also inevitably involve a more multidisciplinary approach to understand and model the complexity and feedback mechanisms facing the agricultural sector in a more forward-looking manner. Global Issues Total U.S. arable land represents roughly 11% of global arable land, with the rest of the world consisting of 89% (FAOSTAT 2017a). From a production standpoint, the rest of the world produces more than 90% of total rice, wheat, and pork (table 2). The rest of the world produces between 80% and 90% of beef, milk, and chicken. The rest of the world produces roughly 65% of corn and soybeans. While the U.S. farm economy is important, when looking at the global production of food necessary to meet global demand, understanding the rest of the world in addition to the United States is paramount to understanding future investments in the farm economy and appropriate U.S. agricultural policy. Table 2 Global Percentage of Production Excluding the United States (2014) Commodity  Rest of the World Production  Corn  65.2%  Rice  98.6%  Soybean  65.1%  Wheat  92.4%  Beef  82.3%  Milk  85.7%  Pork  91.0%  Poultry (Chicken)  82.3%  Commodity  Rest of the World Production  Corn  65.2%  Rice  98.6%  Soybean  65.1%  Wheat  92.4%  Beef  82.3%  Milk  85.7%  Pork  91.0%  Poultry (Chicken)  82.3%  Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock and crop production data. Supply and conditional input demand response to changes in input or output prices rests upon the shape of the production frontier interacting with a behavioral objective of cost minimization or profit maximization. Further complicating our understanding of supply response is that in several countries agricultural land is a non-tradable input rather than a market-determined input due to policy constraints. In addition, other inputs are often constrained or are produced in a household context, leading to a modeling approach that may differ from the behavioral assumption of cost minimization or profit maximization. Estimating supply response for these agricultural economies becomes more complex but nonetheless important. The ability to convert inputs into outputs has been a fundamental component in studying the farm economy. Current effort is focused on understanding comparative advantage by estimating cost structures in different countries through projects such as Agri Benchmark (2017). The goals of Agri Benchmark are to understand developments in global agriculture, examine the technological and political framework of farms, and provide information for clients on the global agricultural economy. Understanding the production, cost, and/or profit frontiers provides information regarding future trends that are critical to understanding the ability meet food demand through increased efficiency, as well as increased scale—both of which may have detrimental environmental impacts (Perry, Moschini, and Hennessy 2016). Over periods of time, improvement can occur in yield (figure 2). From 1961 to 2014, world average soybean yield increased from 11,287 to 26,067 hectograms per hectare (FAOSTAT 2017b). During the same time period, the yield in North America increased from 16,932 to 31,669, while the yield in South America increased from 11,458 to 28,071 hectograms per hectare. Under what conditions the relaxation of economic constraints could result in similar changes in corn production in different countries has important implications for policy development in the United States. Understanding the ability of other regions to replicate the South American experience with soybean yields or other agricultural crops will have important impacts on the competitiveness, investment opportunities, and credit needs for U.S. agriculture. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Global soybean yield from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT crop production data. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Global soybean yield from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT crop production data. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Global beef yield from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock production primary data. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Global beef yield from 1961 through 2014 Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock production primary data. On the animal product side, from 1961 to 2014, global average beef yield increased from 1,601 to 2,155 hectograms per animal (FAOSTAT 2017c). The yield in North America increased from 2,118 to 3,730 hectograms per animal, while the yield in South America increased from 1,976 to 2,320 hectograms per animal over the same time period (figure 3). In the case of beef, the gap in the production per animal in North America increased over the period. Consistent with crop production, the gap across regions for other animal products has decreased. There are explanations for those differences; however, the profitability of investment in certain sectors of the U.S. farm economy relies on expectations for how the competitive balance is expected to change. The ability to produce more output per unit of input is important to meeting the crop and animal product needs with a growing population. Table 3 displays the changes from 1961 to 2014 for selected crop and animal products. The worldwide annual output change per hectare for crop production ranged from 1.5% in soybeans to 2.1% for wheat. The annual change in animal products per animal increased from 0.3% for pork to 0.7% for chicken. Generally, the output per unit of input for crop products has increased faster than for animal products. In addition, there is much variability between regions of the world, with some regions experiencing nearly a 3% annual growth in output in crops, and some in excess of 2% annual for animal products. Table 3 Annual Yield Growth for Crop and Animal Products, 1961–2014 Region  Maize  Soybean  Wheat  Rice  Beef  Chicken  Pork  Milk  World  1.95%  1.52%  2.05%  1.67%  0.57%  0.66%  0.34%  0.57%  Africa  1.23%  2.18%  2.25%  0.69%  0.20%  0.73%  0.07%  0.22%  Asia  2.87%  1.39%  2.65%  1.73%  0.91%  0.51%  0.96%  2.01%  Europe  2.11%  2.44%  2.29%  1.07%  1.11%  0.49%  0.31%  1.83%  N. America  1.66%  1.13%  1.39%  1.41%  1.09%  1.06%  0.81%  2.20%  Oceania  2.40%  2.35%  0.91%  1.46%  1.00%  0.77%  0.60%  1.34%  S. America  2.62%  1.77%  1.46%  2.14%  0.53%  1.21%  0.51%  1.03%  Region  Maize  Soybean  Wheat  Rice  Beef  Chicken  Pork  Milk  World  1.95%  1.52%  2.05%  1.67%  0.57%  0.66%  0.34%  0.57%  Africa  1.23%  2.18%  2.25%  0.69%  0.20%  0.73%  0.07%  0.22%  Asia  2.87%  1.39%  2.65%  1.73%  0.91%  0.51%  0.96%  2.01%  Europe  2.11%  2.44%  2.29%  1.07%  1.11%  0.49%  0.31%  1.83%  N. America  1.66%  1.13%  1.39%  1.41%  1.09%  1.06%  0.81%  2.20%  Oceania  2.40%  2.35%  0.91%  1.46%  1.00%  0.77%  0.60%  1.34%  S. America  2.62%  1.77%  1.46%  2.14%  0.53%  1.21%  0.51%  1.03%  Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock and crop production data. Work by Ball, Schimmelpfenning, and Wang (2013) and Ball et al. (2016) focuses on whether U.S. agricultural productivity and productivity in other countries is slowing. This research has often been on an aggregate level. However, the relative change in productivity for different agricultural outputs is the level at which investment is often made. To illustrate this discussion, the change in output per hectare for crops on an annual basis for the last 20 years is less than the 1961 to 2014 period (table 4). The only regions that have experienced an increase in the growth rate of converting land to output are Africa for maize, rice and soybean, Europe for rice, Oceania for wheat, and South America for maize and rice. The growth in output per animal is higher for chicken and milk for the world for the most recent 20-year period than over the 53-year period. Several animal products in different geographical regions have experienced faster growth in the production of output per animal unit in the most recent 20-year period. Table 4 Annual Yield Growth for Crop and Animal Products, 1994–2014 Region  Maize  Soybean  Wheat  Rice  Beef  Chicken  Pork  Milk  World  1.59%  0.92%  1.25%  1.12%  0.24%  0.86%  0.11%  0.68%  Africa  1.72%  3.12%  2.06%  0.83%  0.50%  0.85%  0.01%  0.64%  Asia  1.85%  0.10%  1.47%  1.11%  0.27%  0.33%  −0.01%  2.20%  Europe  1.67%  0.99%  1.02%  2.26%  0.89%  0.77%  0.32%  2.66%  N. America  1.02%  0.81%  1.22%  1.40%  0.90%  0.85%  0.75%  1.65%  Oceania  1.40%  0.75%  0.98%  1.06%  0.32%  1.47%  0.37%  0.90%  S. America  3.44%  1.09%  1.41%  3.24%  0.53%  2.00%  0.56%  2.14%  Region  Maize  Soybean  Wheat  Rice  Beef  Chicken  Pork  Milk  World  1.59%  0.92%  1.25%  1.12%  0.24%  0.86%  0.11%  0.68%  Africa  1.72%  3.12%  2.06%  0.83%  0.50%  0.85%  0.01%  0.64%  Asia  1.85%  0.10%  1.47%  1.11%  0.27%  0.33%  −0.01%  2.20%  Europe  1.67%  0.99%  1.02%  2.26%  0.89%  0.77%  0.32%  2.66%  N. America  1.02%  0.81%  1.22%  1.40%  0.90%  0.85%  0.75%  1.65%  Oceania  1.40%  0.75%  0.98%  1.06%  0.32%  1.47%  0.37%  0.90%  S. America  3.44%  1.09%  1.41%  3.24%  0.53%  2.00%  0.56%  2.14%  Note: Bold numbers indicate a percentage increase greater than the 1961 to 1994 average. Source: Raw data from FAOSTAT livestock and crop production data. Changes in yield over time is only a partial measure of productivity. While the input-output information provides some indication regarding productivity growth in crop and animal products, the analysis is not complete as it does not provide information regarding the use of inputs and the cost of those inputs (Mugera, Langemeier, and Ojede 2016). Gaitán-Cremaschi, Meuwissen, and Oude Lansink (2017) use productivity measures to benchmark sustainability. Alston reviewed the status of agricultural innovation and productivity, including Alston (2017) questions that are currently unanswered, for example whether farmers benefit from public agricultural research and development, and whether U.S. agricultural productivity growth has slowed in recent decades. Alston argues that U.S. farmers as a group have been made worse off by changes in technology, but that they cannot afford to cease to innovate. Finally, Alston argues that the source of data is important regarding whether productivity growth is increasing or decreasing. Technical change and productivity growth from production and cost frontiers work will continue to provide that information and is a key issue that needs to be addressed—not only in the United States but worldwide. Comparative advantage is partially determined by productivity improvement over time. Research is needed at the aggregate country level as discussed by Alston (2017), but is also needed at a more disaggregate level as illustrated above. Choosing appropriate enterprises at the farm level and providing this information to policy makers is important information necessary to efficiently invest in farm economies, not only in the United States but in farm economies of other countries. Domestic Issues The agricultural economy, due to the inelastic nature of demand for food and the competitive nature of production, is subject to volatility in output prices and farm income. The U.S. agricultural economy needs to be resilient to adjust from a situation of high commodity prices and strong net income from 2007 through 2013 to a situation of increased farm financial stress due to robust domestic supplies and decreasing global demand, resulting in falling commodity prices and leading to a decline in net farm income for four consecutive years through 2017. Weakness in the U.S. farm economy causes cash-strapped producers to use working capital to meet immediate financial obligations. Farm land values decline and rental rates also decline. In this situation, farmer repayment situations become more tenuous. At the same time, opportunities abound for the farm economy if farmers are resilient through periods of abundance and periods of stress. The agricultural sector of the United States has evolved and continues to evolve through major transformations through increased labor efficiency, mechanization, and technological change. In this changing environment, farmers must consider producing alternative crops, using new technologies and management approaches, and changing production patterns. Farm economy issues are an important area of policy consideration within the United States. Roughly every five years, the United States establishes a Farm Bill that consist of issues that are critical for it to remain a leader in the global agricultural economy. The 2014 Farm Bill had twelve titles consisting of commodities, conservation, trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, research and extension, forestry, energy, horticulture, crop insurance, and miscellaneous (Chite 2014). Of the 12 titles, several focus directly on the farm economy and as such provide the opportunity to be informed by agricultural economics research. Commodity Programs U.S. commodity programs have shifted from direct farm payments to crop insurance subsidies since 2000 (figure 4) based on data from the USDA Economic Research Service (2017b) and the USDA Risk Management Agency (2017). The commodity programs are total direct payments minus conservation payments and supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance. Federal payments to farmers were approximately $24.2 billion in 2000, reached a peak of $26.7 billion in 2005, and were $16.9 billion in 2015. Crop insurance subsidies were about 4% of payments in 2000 and increased to about 36% in 2015. Commodity payments were about 54.3% in 2000, increased to 69% in 2005, and decreased to 31.9% in 2015. Conservation payments have increased steadily over time as a percentage of total expenditures, beginning at 6.7% in 2000 and ending at 21.4% in 2015. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide U.S. federal direct farm rogram payments and crop insurance subsidies Source: Raw data from USDA ERS and USDA RMA. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide U.S. federal direct farm rogram payments and crop insurance subsidies Source: Raw data from USDA ERS and USDA RMA. The commodity title has traditionally been an area of agricultural economics research and is likely to remain so in the future. The policy objectives of farm programs have the possibility of being undermined because of limited access to equity markets due to farmers balancing business risk and financial risk (Featherstone et al. 1988). Thus, it is not clear whether farm programs produce their intended outcomes. Important research topics include those that examine public support for agricultural programs and the implications of alternative agricultural program support mechanisms, including the complete elimination of farm programs. The 2014 legislation moved from a support mechanism based on fixed direct payments to counter-cyclical programs, one focused on price (price loss coverage) and one based on revenue (agriculture risk coverage). The implications of this shift have broad ramifications, ranging from the effect on household income, the effect of crop mix or livestock enterprise choice and possible trade legislation impacts (Serra et al. 2009), to the effect on real estate values (Kirwan and Roberts 2016; Chambers and Voica 2017). Crop Insurance Issues Interlaced with the commodity title in the farm bill is the crop insurance title. Crop insurance has become more important with the advent of revenue coverage (figure 4). Policy issues include the level of subsidy provided to farmers, especially with regard to whether there is a need for means testing. Balancing that effort is the need to keep enrollment high within the program to broaden the acreage covered for sustainable re-insurance markets. Adverse selection, policy pricing, yield modeling, appropriate levels of compensation for agents, and the appropriate amount of subsidy to farmers (if any) remain important research issues (Woodard and Verteramo-Chiu 2017; Cooper, Tran, and Wallander 2017). Understanding farmer demand for crop insurance products is another issue that could benefit from additional research (Sherrick et al. 2004a; Sherrick et al. 2004b; Du, Feng, and Hennessy 2017). Support both the commodity title and the crop insurance title is not only provided by farmers but also the agricultural financial services industry. Revenue coverage provides protection from a risk-balancing framework that may allow some farmers access to credit at the margin. Credit Issues The credit title is also related to the commodity title and the crop insurance title through the mechanism of risk balancing. One of the missions of the Farm Service Agency is as a lender of last resort providing credit to individuals that are unable to obtain credit from commercial sources (Dodson and Ahrendsen 2017; Rusiana, Brewer, and Escalante 2017). Specifically, the Farm Bill authorizes that either direct or guaranteed loans are provided to those denied credit by other lenders that have to capacity to repay (Chite 2014). A special focus has been on young and beginning farmers, along with other socially-disadvantaged groups (Katchova and Ahearn 2017). Within the broader context, credit and the ability to raise outside equity capital are important research topics in light of consolidation occurring in production agriculture (Featherstone and Sherrick 1992). The entrance of several nontraditional lenders as suppliers of capital has led to a system where some lenders are regulated differently than other lenders (Johnson, Boehlje, and Gunderson 2017; Featherstone, Wilson, and Zollinger 2017). Many of these new entrants have entered during periods of relatively high profitability, leading to some concern regarding staying power in the event of more difficult lending situations (Dressler and Tauer 2017). The diverse financial products used to finance agriculture adds complexity and alters traditional risk-return scenarios. According to the USDA Economic Research Service (2017b), in 2015 farm real estate constituted about 82% of the value of the assets on the balance sheet, and the debt on those real estate assets represents about 57% of debt held by farmers. Outside entities, such as Chess Ag, Farmland Partners, Gladstone, etc., have focused on agricultural land investment due to competitive market return (NCREIF 2017), with various arrangements regarding how that land is farmed either via custom farming or traditional cash or share rental arrangements. This has led to multi-year cash leasing arrangements that are essentially debt instruments. With the downturn in profitability, the credit mechanisms become more important. This can be compounded by a rapid increase in land values that occurred from 2007 to 2014. As that occurs, financial service providers become concerned with potential downward adjustment in land values. Featherstone and Baker (1987) argue that the farmland market has a propensity to asset bubbles, where the reaction to a shock in the market can lead to asset value increases for several years, followed by a rapid decrease in asset values when it becomes recognized by market participants as being transitory. Asset markets in general have a propensity for bubbles. Certainly research in this market anomaly is relevant not only for the farm economy but also for the broader economy (Bierlen and Featherstone 1998). Bioenergy Issues One of the major differences between the farm crisis in the 1980s and the situation in the 2010s was the development of the ethanol industry where about one-quarter of U.S. corn production is used in the production of ethanol. Whether that demand placed a floor under prices for agricultural commodities, specifically corn, is an open question. The relationship between the general energy market prices and agricultural commodity prices has been a topic of study. The 2014 Farm Bill contains an energy title that incentivizes research and development of biofuels and other renewable energy products (Chite 2014). There has been a focus on cellulosic biofuel production. While the farm bill certainly focuses on the development of biofuels, the renewable fuels initiative is likely more relevant for placing a floor under commodity prices, especially corn. In addition to ethanol, biodiesel is also an important renewable energy product that provides an alternative market for agricultural fats and oils. The interaction between renewable energy and the effect on agricultural markets will continue to be an issue of importance into the next decade (Motamed, McPhail, and Williams 2017). Although energy is addressed in the farm bill, the Environmental Protection Agency and the decision they make with regard to the Renewable Fuels Standard has a larger impact than the USDA (Tyner and Herath 2018). Macroeconomic Issues Tax, trade, or other policies that affect interest rates and ultimately exchange rates may have a greater impact on the agricultural economy than the farm bill. Much of neoclassical economics assume a no-tax economy. However, tax policy leads to changes in the organizational structure of farms as farmers optimize after-tax revenue. The ability to organize as a C corporation, an S corporation, or a limited liability company all affect the structure of U.S. agriculture production (Featherstone et al. 2012). Tax policy may shift the economies of scale for U.S. agriculture production. The fixed costs and the resulting benefits from separating a farm into a agricultural production firm and a land-holding company to manage tax and legal liabilities is one way that the cost curve can be shifted. Understanding unintended consequences from tax policy is an area in need of further research. Trade policy, inflation, and interest rate policy ultimately affect exchange rates. Exchange rate differences among countries may shift comparative advantage. For example, a policy that increases interest rates in the United States will strengthen the U.S. dollar. Ultimately, this may affect agricultural commodity prices and the well-being of the U.S. agricultural economy. An increase in interest rates could have dramatic effects on asset (land) pricing and ultimately the collateral that provides the capital that many producers rely on. The unintended consequences of macroeconomic policy on the farm economy are important research issues. The Food Supply Chain Saitone and Sexton (2017) argue that the evidence in concentration implies the food processing and retailing sectors seems to have slowed. In addition, these authors argue that consolidation in food marketing has generally benefited consumers. However, they argue that the focus may need to move away from consumers and into the farm-product procurement markets. This has left farmers with fewer sales outlets with more vertical control. While this has increased the efficiency of the food supply chain, Saitone and Sexton suggest that the supply chain focuses on the most efficient farmers, leading to uneven market access for many small farms. In addition, issues with regard to food pricing near the consumer level continues to be important (Richards, Gomez, and Printezis 2016). With the food system becoming more consolidated, monopsony and/or oligopsony market power can alter the output supply and other input demand elasticities for farmers (Yamaura and Featherstone 2015) depending on the elasticity of the supply curve. Market power held by purchasers of agricultural commodities or sellers of agricultural inputs can adversely affect the producers’ well-being. The use of vertical coordination mechanisms such as contract pricing varies widely across sectors within agriculture (Saitone and Sexton 2017). Stiegert, Shi, and Chavas (2010) examined the U.S. seed industry with regard to pricing, trait-bundling, efficiency, and market power. These authors found (through a review of a number of articles) the use of sub-additive pricing in stacked seeds (Shi, Stiegert, and Chavas 2011) and that concentration of the seed industry has contributed to higher seed prices though concentration, which can also be associated with efficiency gains (Shi, Chavas, and Stiegert 2010). Certainly understanding the market effects of mergers in the seed industry and other farm input industries and output markets are important areas of study as policy makers react to further consolidation. Infrastructure investment is a popular policy tool. Broadband access is one infrastructure investment supported by farmers. Kim and Orazem (2017) found that broadband access increases the likelihood of economic activity in rural areas through the impacts of agglomeration economies. These authors found that the largest effect was in the education and health services industry, while the smallest effect was in manufacturing. The availability of broadband services will affect the ability of individuals in rural areas to make the most out of big data applications and potential off-farm business or employment opportunities. Human Resource Issues Other policies that may have unintended consequences revolve around human resources, including bringing a new generation of individuals into production agriculture, issues regarding the supply and demand for labor (Fan, Pena, and Perloff 2016), and health insurance availability and affordability. Over the next decade, these issues may be addressed by the U.S. Congress, and evidence-based research by agricultural and applied economists may inform policy. The aging farmer has been an issue that has attracted attention for a number of years (Clawson 1963) in addition to the discussion of barriers to entry for beginning farmers (Ahearn and Newton 2009). Establishing a successful farming business requires equipment and operating assets, and either rented land or owned acreage. Many beginning farmers find that one or more of these assets can be severely constrained due to a lack of financing; thus, the lack of entry into farming by younger farmers is a concern that has been addressed in the Farm Bill (Chite 2014). Concerns regarding where future farmers will come from, the public policy alternatives that would facilitate the entry of young entrepreneurs into farming, the sources of start-up financing, and tax reforms/incentives that can be established that decrease the financial risk to starting a farming operation are all issues of concern. Farm labor is an important issue affecting the farm economy. Whether it involves the uniqueness of the farm labor market (Fisher and Knutson 2013), immigration issues in the farm economy (Martin 2013), and/or whether there is a farm labor shortage (Hertz and Zahniser 2013) are important issues, especially within some sectors of the farm economy. Included in the labor conundrum are issues of appropriate compensation and incentive structures for farm labor. Farm labor and/or mechanized innovations are both important contributors to the financial well-being of the farm. Issues such as the role of hired labor in agriculture, and the trend and future for mechanization in farm production are important research topics. The capital-labor tradeoff has been an issue for decades and in many respects society has benefited from the substitution of labor with capital (Barkley 1990). Will this trend continue? How quickly robotics and other specialized capital machinery can be developed in a cost-effective manner is an important issue for many farmers in the future. The issue of health insurance availability and affordability for farmers is an issue affecting the structure of U.S. production agriculture (Ahearn, Williamson, and Black 2015). Many farmers buy insurance from a small group pool, in individual insurance markets, or have health insurance through off-farm employment. The current system has limited choices in rural areas, thus disparately affecting those employed in farming in those regions where non-farm employment opportunities are limited. Appropriate mechanisms for health insurance and health care given the aging farm population have important implications for the U.S. farm economy. Advances in Understanding the Farm Economy Given the current farm economy priorities and comparing them to issues that were addressed in the first issues of the profession (table 1) can lead to questions regarding the progress made in understanding the agricultural economy. While the topics are similar, the data, the analytical techniques, and the conceptual economic models are much improved. The same concerns could also be expressed with regard to most agricultural disciplines, as agronomists are still studying wheat, animal scientists are still studying cattle, and agricultural engineers are still studying mechanization. Because of the nature of economics and the desire to satisfy unlimited wants in a world with limited resources, the issues and priorities related to the farm economy will be important in the future as they have in the past, although the tools and methods will be more precise. The manner in which society and individuals consider certain issues can adjust quickly as information is discovered and preferences adjust. Several areas exist where the agricultural economics profession can provide leadership in general economics while providing valuable insights to policymakers. A deeper understanding of decision-making in a risky environment is important to predicting and understanding decisions made by economic agents (Serra, Goodwin, and Featherstone 2011; Just and Just 2016). Risk has often been considered at an individual firm or agent level, although there is evidence that within supply chains, risk-bearing activity is managed at different levels within that supply chain. A more general approach to understanding the appropriate risks that a firm should take within the farm economy is an important issue for providing insight into the farm economy. Much of the effort on decision-making under risk has focused on risk preferences. In the predominant model of expected utility, the study of trade-off between choices made by agents has been studied in-depth by economists (Buschena and Zilberman 1994). For those that have concerns with the expected utility model, prospect theory has been introduced as an alternative (Babcock 2015). Perhaps less understood is how economics agents measure subjective probability information (Sherrick 2002). Two decision makers facing the same conditions may make different decisions, and while some of that difference could be explained by risk preferences, perhaps a more important difference may be how those economic agents perceive the distribution of outcomes. Another important priority are the appropriate risks a firm should internalize and those that they should place on other entities, including issues regarding the value of liquidity and the development and success of new markets to bear risk. Liquidity provides a safety mechanism for firms to weather difficult times and to make timely decisions as market opportunities arise. At the same time, liquid assets usually earn a low return, if any. Thus, a general understanding of the benefits and costs of holding liquidity in the context of a general lack of access to equity to appropriately balance risk will continue to be important in the future. Part of that understanding is the new markets that need to develop and the success of those markets. For example, would a completely private crop insurance market for the purpose of managing yield risk develop if policymakers would modify access to the federal program? If so, what would the necessary size of that market be, and what are other characteristics needed for that new instrument to be successful? Concepts such as quasi-rationality are tied into the broader economy, indicating that financial systems are prone to crisis due to asset bubbles that create issues in asset prices; important in the U.S. farm crisis in the 1980s (Featherstone and Baker 1987). More fully understanding how farmers make investment decisions can help to address the issues of asset bubbles and the appropriate policy mechanisms to mitigate the negative effects of these market anomalies. Behavioral economics may help the profession solve these issues in the context of the farm economy. With advances in understanding farmers’ decision-making, advances in data and methods have advanced to test this new understanding. With ever-increasing computing power, the curse of dimensionality will continue to lessen, thus allowing for analysis of larger data sets. The profession and the agricultural economics profession as they develop management information using data analytics will frame management and policy options for those in the farm economy (Coble et al. 2018). Harnessing the information within the data will improve the efficiency of the farm economy. To obtain the necessary data to make advances, private/public partnerships will become more necessary. The ability to obtain information is becoming more difficult with the increasing complexity of farms. In addition, private firms are collecting more information via technology. Obtaining access to that data will involve establishing partnerships with firms such as Granular, Climate Corporation, Answer Plot, etc. Engineering methods of economic analysis may become more common in the analysis of the farm economy, especially in the areas of crop and animal growth, the spread of disease, and other technical relationships that are better understood and modeled via biophysical simulation models. The ability to understand the complementarity or substitutability of inputs or outputs will be measured with more precision. These advances will likely occur from using more multidisciplinary research approaches. While the foundations of technical change will come from advances in agronomy, animal sciences, agricultural engineering or psychology, agricultural and applied economists are critical to transforming technical relationships into policy analysis and management advice in the context of a market economy. Communicating and Educating Boland and Crespi (2010) found that the number of PhD graduates in the field of agricultural economics has declined since 1997. In addition, these authors document that dissertation research has increasingly moved away from farm economy issues to topics on natural resources and environmental economics. As such, there is less human capital focused on farm economy issues. This creates a need for those that work on farm economy issues to communicate more broadly to others. This communication will need to use multiple strategies, including traditional sources such as meetings and conferences, print, radio, and television. In addition, on-demand media available on the Internet will increase in importance. Websites such as FarmDoc, eXtension, and AgManager will become more important in communicating farm economy findings, allowing information to be assessable across geographic boundaries. Perry (2010) documents the downward trend in “agricultural economics” faculty numbers nationwide. In addition, the number of economists working full-time at the USDA Economic Research Service has declined (Perry 2010). At the same time, the number of undergraduate degrees in agricultural economics roughly doubled from 1970 to 2003 (Perry 2010). This author argues that within the profession there is a difference in orientation between graduate and undergraduate students’ focus. Post-undergraduate employment opportunities are plentiful in the traditional farm economy and closely-related fields (agribusiness) and will continue to be given the increased needs of food production by 2050. The curriculum demanded by industry will focus on applied problem solving, data analysis skills, understanding business and economics, understanding the linkage between food and agricultural technology, and economics coupled with soft-skills such as oral and written communication skills and the ability to work with others in an increasingly diverse world. Concluding Thoughts Research in farm economics will increase in importance over the next few decades. With the projected addition of two billion people by 2050 (which will be roughly split between Asia and Africa) increasing the production of food to supply that population will be a challenge. At the same time, a growing middle class will have changing food preferences and further stress the productive capabilities of agriculture. Research priorities include increasing productivity and cost efficiency on current land resources while carefully adding land resources across the globe. Understanding the shape of the production frontier is imperative as policymakers consider regulating or restricting the use of certain inputs. Identifying methods for increased efficiency and the appropriate inputs to apply and the outputs to produce in the context of markets is an important role for farm economists. Providing unbiased objective analysis to policymakers with regard to commodity programs, insurance markets, agricultural credit, and the production of bioenergy are important issues that directly affect the farm economy. The effect of macroeconomic policy such as taxes, trade, and monetary policy on the farm economy will continue to increase in the future. Given the mismatch between the location of global population and the location of excess agricultural production, understanding comparative advantage and the food and agribusiness supply chain will be paramount. At the same time, research focusing on human resource issues, including the availability of agricultural labor, aging farm ownership in many parts of the world, and the difficulty for beginning farmers to attract capital will be needed. Access to health insurance and health care is also an important research issue for the farm economy. The ability to manage risk, the increasing complexity of farm operations, the ability of the farm sector to be nimble to changes in individual and societal preferences, and the efficient discovery of information through efficient markets offer a wealth of research opportunities. The increased ability to capture data and improved computational ability to analyze data within the context of conceptual economic models offers the opportunity to inform managers within the agricultural sector, consumers, and policymakers. The farm economy is a priority for future research and education. 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