In agricultural economics, at Purdue and elsewhere, it seems to me that our central challenge is how to be both mission-driven, responsive to our clientele in agriculture – and also true to our first principles as and as individuals. When the Purdue ag econ department was founded in the 1920s and as the department grew in the 1930s, farmers were much poorer than the average American. relative poverty persisted through the 1950s and 1960s, and at that time there was the added of huge disruptions due to rapid outflow of labor and consolidation of farmland. But for a of reasons, since the 1990s American farmers have been much richer than the average American, and there has been no further net outflow of labor or consolidation of farmland in America as a whole. So, from its hardscrabble roots, the agricultural economics discipline now finds itself serving a relativelywealthy and stable sector. Agriculture is a high-risk enterprise, but it’s not going away or even shrinking. This puts our discipline in an enviable if sometimes awkward position....Nature of Farm Programs?
Now after decades of study, it turns out that government interventions such as cropOrganic Farming
insurance, renewable fuel mandates, the conservation reserve program, land conversion restrictions and many others are not necessarily what they seem. Modern economics can explain them pretty well, but only as rent-seeking devices. These interventions are ways for farmers and landowners to obtain income transfers from the public in a way that is obscured from public view, hidden partly by their sheer complexity and partly by the claim that they exist to solve market failures such as credit constraints or environmental problems.
People say they want to organic methods and traditional genetics to avoid health risks and environmental threats posed by industrial agriculture. People say they want to buy local and artisanal food so as to promote the local economy, or to avoid environmental damage from long-distance transport. But when scholars investigate these claims, they may turn out to be very fragile. What if organic, local, traditional and artisanal products don’t actually deliver a healthier, more secure and sustainable food system? This is not a hypothetical question. Right now, the preponderance of evidence is pointing in that direction.