Current Activities

A Market for Ideas

The scientific method that underpins ERS research necessarily requires that analysts be actively engaged with their disciplinary peers in agricultural and other fields of applied economics. The test of quality for a research project is whether it meets disciplinary standards in problem definition and in the application of appropriate theory and empirical methodology. Each ERS researcher, therefore, has a role to play in the scientific community, seeking review from research peers but also providing that review and working with colleagues on advancing disciplinary knowledge. While, these days, much of the collegial interaction occurs via electronic communication, there is no substitute for face-to-face conversation and debate with one’s colleagues, who are located across the country and the globe.

The primary forum for real (as opposed to virtual) gatherings of peers is the annual meeting of the American Agricultural Economics Association. This year’s meetings were held in Montreal jointly with the Canadian Agricultural Economics Society and Rural Sociological Society. ERS researchers contributed more than 100 papers and presentations to the two and a half day meetings attended by some 1,800 professionals. The ERS program contributions spanned the range of the agency’s subject matter, including:

  • Diet and health issues with a focus on economic incentives to design more effective health policy to address obesity.
  • Policies and farm practices to manage manure and improve water quality, with ERS staff analyzing farm level, regional, and national impacts of decisions to apply manure on cropland at agronomic rates so as to reduce runoff and leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous into surface and ground water.
  • The effect of farm programs, including new counter-cyclical payments, on farm households and agricultural markets, analyzed in papers applying different approaches, including general equilibrium modeling and experimental economics.
  • Measurements of social and economic diversity among U.S. counties, including results from research on definitions of farming-dependent counties.

Every 3 years, the International Association of Agricultural Economics convenes, and this summer the meeting was in Durban, South Africa. There, ERS organized and financially sponsored a workshop drawing on ERS research on the economics of food security to cover both domestic and international issues. In this learning workshop, titled “Food Security Measurement in a Developing World Context with a Focus on Africa,” speakers described and assessed various techniques used to measure food security in the U.S. and across the globe. Included were survey-based methods ERS helped develop to assess the food security of U.S. households by asking questions about specific behaviors and conditions known to characterize households having difficulty meeting their food needs. ERS researchers also described collaborative work with social scientists in several low-income countries to adapt the U.S. methods for use in those countries. A panel of experts on data collection in low-income countries wrapped up the workshop with a lively discussion on concrete steps that could be taken to improve current methods.

Liberalizing World Trade in Textiles and Apparel

International trade in textiles and apparel has been governed by quantitative restrictions under the Multi-Fiber Arrangement (MFA) and earlier agreements for more than 30 years. One of the major accomplishments of the Uruguay Round was the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing, which phases out the MFA over a 10-year period that ends in 2004. Beginning in 2005, the economic landscape for global textiles and apparel will change, with implications for the cotton-producing countries around the world as well as for the economies of major yarn, fabric, and clothing exporters and importers. ERS is examining the likely impacts of textile trade liberalization on developing countries, U.S. cotton farmers, and U.S. textile workers in rural communities. Freer textile trade is expected to provide tremendous opportunities for some developing countries (such as China), but may have negative implications for countries with existing preferential trade relations with the U.S. and the European Union (such as Mexico and countries in northern Africa). Stephen MacDonald