James MacDonald

James M. MacDonald

Branch Chief


Jim MacDonald is chief of the Structure, Technology, and Productivity branch. The branch's work focuses on four topics. One is the measurement and analysis of agricultural productivity. Second, the branch focuses on the economics of scientific research, and the development of new biological and physical technologies, for use in agriculture. It analyzes the application of new and existing production practices, management systems, and technologies on farms. Finally, it studies the changing organization and structure of farms and the farm sector. The branch also bears major responsibility for the annual Agricultural Research Management Survey, USDA's primary source of data and farm and farm household finances and field-level production practices.

Jim's area of specialization lies in industrial organization, with a focus on empirical research on the topics of competition, firm organization, innovation, and industry consolidation. In this position, he has sought to apply that focus to U.S. agriculture, with work on consolidation of agricultural production, competition in markets for agricultural commodities, the use of contracts in agriculture, and the organization of farms.


Prior to assuming his present position in 2001, Jim was senior economist in the Food Economics Division at ERS. He has also been associate professor of Economics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1987-1994), and adjunct professor at Rensselaer’s School of Management (1994-2010). Jim started his career at ERS in 1980.


Jim received a Ph.D. in economics from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He also received an M.A. from SUNY Buffalo and a B.S. in economics from Siena College.

Professional Affiliations

Jim is a member of the American Economic Association and the Industrial Organization Society. He is a member and Fellow of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

Selected Publications

Selected Recent Articles in Journals

MacDonald, J. 2017. "Consolidation, Concentration, and Competition in the Food System," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Special Issue: Agricultural Consolidation: Causes and the Path Forward. September.

Fuglie K.O., M. Clancy, P. Heisey, and J. MacDonald. 2017. "Research, Productivity, and Output Growth in U.S. Agriculture," Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics. July.

MacDonald, J. 2016. Concentration, Contracting, and Competition Policy in U.S. Agribusiness, in “Competition Law and Policy and the Food Value Chain,” Concurrences: Competition Law Review, No. 1, February.

MacDonald, J. 2015. "Trends in Agricultural Contracts," Choices: The Magazine of Food, Farm, and Resource Issues 30(3), Third Quarter.

MacDonald, J., and S. Wu. 2015. "The Economics of Contract Grower Protection Legislation: The Packers and Stockyards Act and GIPSA Rule," Choices: The Magazine of Food, Farm, and Resource Issues, August.

MacDonald, J. 2013. "Railroads and Price Discrimination: The Roles of Competition, Information, and Regulation," Review of Industrial Organization 43(1):85-101.

MacDonald, J., and N. Key. 2012. "Market Power in Poultry Production Contracting? Evidence from a Farm Survey," Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics 44(4):477-490.

MacDonald, J., and S. Wang. 2011. "Foregoing Sub-therapeutic Antibiotics: the Impact on Broiler Grow-out Operations," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy 33(1):79-99.

Khanal, A., J. Gillespie, and J. MacDonald. 2010. "Adoption of Technology, Management Practices, and Production Systems in U.S. Milk Production," Journal of Dairy Science 93(12):6012-6022.

Aaronson, D., E. French, and J. MacDonald. 2008. "The Minimum Wage, Restaurant Prices, and Labor Market Structure," The Journal of Human Resources 43(3):688-720, Summer.

MacDonald, J., and D. Aaronson. 2006. "How Firms Construct Price Increases: Responses to Minimum Wage Increases," American Journal of Agricultural Economics 88:292-307.

MacDonald, J., and M. Ollinger. 2005. "Technology, Labor Wars, and Producer Dynamics: Explaining Consolidation in Beefpacking," American Journal of Agricultural Economics 87(4):1020-1033.

Morrison Paul, C., and J. MacDonald. 2003. "Tracing the Effects of Agricultural Commodity Prices on Food Costs," American Journal of Agricultural Economics 85(3):633-646.

Selected Recent Book Chapters

MacDonald, J., and B. Marion. 2015. "Agriculture," in The Structure of American Industry, 13th edition. J. Brock, ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

MacDonald, J., E. O’Donoghue, and R. Hoppe. 2010. "Reshaping Agricultural Production: Geography, Farm Structure, and Finances," in Farming, Finance, and the Global Marketplace, A. Barkema, and J. Henderson, eds. Kansas City, MO: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

MacDonald, J., R. Hoppe, and D. Banker. 2006. "Structural Change in U.S. Agriculture," in Policy Reform and Adjustment in the Agricultural Sectors of Developed Countries, D. Blandford, and B. Hill, eds. London: CABI Publishing.

Bulletins and Reports

MacDonald, J., J. Cessna, and R. Mosheim. 2016. Changing Structure, Financial Risks, and Government Policies for the U.S. Dairy, ERR-205, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, March.

Hoppe, R., and J. MacDonald. 2015. America’s Diverse Family Farms, 2015 Edition, EIB-146, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, December.

Sneeringer, S., J. MacDonald, N. Key, W. McBride, and K. Mathews. 2015. Economics of Antibiotic Use in U.S. Livestock Production, ERR-200, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, November.

MacDonald, J. 2014. Technology, Organization, and Financial Performance in U.S. Broiler Production, EIB-126, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, June.

MacDonald, J., P. Korb, and R. Hoppe. 2013. Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming, ERR-152, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, August.

Hoppe, R., and J. MacDonald. 2013. Updating the ERS Farm Typology, EIB-110, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, April.

MacDonald, J., and P. Korb. 2011. Agricultural Contracting Update: Contracts in 2008, EIB-72, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February.

Hoppe, R., J. MacDonald, and P. Korb. 2010. Small Farms in the United States: Persistence Under Pressure, EIB-63, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February.

MacDonald, J., and W. McBride. 2009. The Transformation of U.S. Livestock Agriculture: Scale, Efficiency and Risks, EIB-43, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, January.