Craft beer and climate change

Craft beer and climate change

Sep 6
Sean Fox, Head, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics
  

To describe in a few sentences the research done by agricultural economists is challenging given the range of topics they work on and the approaches they apply to those topics. 

From craft beer to climate change, family finances to farm management, financial markets in Chicago to farming systems in Malawi, agricultural economists are involved in describing, analyzing, and oftentimes predicting what is happening. The methods they bring to bear range from focus groups and case studies to the most advanced statistical techniques and machine learning.

This work matters to individuals, firms, and policy makers. Over the past decade or so, agricultural economists have become increasingly involved in the field of behavioral economics – designing surveys and experiments and even using MRI brain scans to gain insights into how individuals make decisions and how various factors influence those decisions. For many, the end goal is to help design benign interventions that can nudge people toward making better decisions about food, finances and other life issues that will, in effect, help people lead better, happier lives.

The more traditional realm of agricultural economics includes areas such agricultural production and farm and agribusiness management, and the work typically leads to insights for firms about how best to market their products, design their supply chains, and manage risk. The resulting gains in efficiency make for, potentially, a better world for everybody through lower prices for consumers and more effective use of resources in production. 

Finally, for government policy makers the works of agricultural economists helps shape and adjust the policies that protect environmental resources, guide public investments, and ensure that markets operate fairly and efficiently. For example, one issue on which there is broad agreement in the profession is that returns to public investments in agricultural research have been very favorable – some studies report returns of up to $30 per dollar invested. Findings such as these suggest that reductions in public R&D investments in food and agriculture at a time when the planet is facing higher food demand and increasing threats to the sustainability of our soil, water and other natural resources would be unwise.

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