Darren Hudson is a professor and Larry Combest Agricultural Competitiveness Chair in Texas Tech University’s Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics. He is also director of the university’s Cotton Economics Research Institute. The program coordinates economic research activities on all aspects of cotton research within Texas Tech and other research units throughout the United States and other countries. Hudson, an award-winning agricultural economist, joined Tech in 2008 from Mississippi State University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business and economics from West Texas State University. His master’s and doctorate degrees in agricultural economics are from Texas Tech.
OP-ED ON FILE
- A Vital Resource For the Future: Baccalaureate degrees in Texas Tech University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources are key to providing the science-based expertise necessary to ensure economic viability. By Michael Galyean
- The Greatest Challenge Facing Agriculture: ‘If there is no guarantee the farmers can keep their land, then no farmer will be concerned with any long-term benefits from the land.’ By Kevin Redwine
- Career Opportunities in Agriculture: ‘We need professionals that can stand up for the agriculture industry to protect the quality of life for our growing society.’ By Lori Dudley
- Boosting Student Retention: CASNR’s Student-Centered Programs, Faculty-Based Advising Key Student Success By Rachel Bobbitt
- Dollars and Sense: The Long-Term Economic Value of Higher Education and Research By Eduardo Segarra and Sukant Misra
- A Historical Perspective: America’s Founding Fathers Established the Importance of Agricultural Education by Steve Fraze
- The Ties That Bind: Forging New Links from the Farm to Natural Resource Management by Philip Gipson
- Agricultural Research: Carrying the Water for U.S. Competitiveness by Darren Hudson
- A Global Priority: Education and Research in Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources by Sukant Misra
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Carrying the Water for U.S. Competitiveness
By Darren Hudson
Less than 2 percent of the American population lives or works on a farm. But, supplying input to those farms, processing the product, transportation, and retailing of food and fiber products collectively accounts for nearly 20 percent of U.S. employment and economic output. On the Texas High Plains, that percentage is much higher – about 40 percent. And, around the globe, agriculture forms the foundation for the economies of many nations.
Food and fiber production represents a cultural fabric that has bound together communities and fostered economic development across the country and the world. Rural communities have long depended on agriculture as the lifeblood that funded schools and communities and provided employment for much of the rural population. The fact is, our present position is the result of many, many years of agricultural research.
Food Availability. Beginning in earnest in the 1800s, agricultural research focused on increasing the amount of product produced per farmer through breeding, mechanization, and chemical applications. These developments reduced the need for labor on the farm, thereby freeing up labor for industrial development. The progress has been such that a farmer typically fed 4 to 5 people in the 1800s, and now a typical U.S. farmer feeds around 150 people.
Along with the increase in food availability, real food prices have declined. Coupled with increasing real incomes from industrial development, the United States went from spending almost 50 percent of its income on food in the early 1900s to less than 10 percent today. That means more money can be spent on education, housing, entertainment, etc. And, most all of this decline can be attributed to agricultural research.
Technological Development. U.S. farmers are productive as a result of past research. But, they’re facing increasing competition from foreign producers who face lower labor, chemical and other costs. We will not have abundant, cheap labor in the United States again. So, technological development is the primary means of maintaining competitiveness.
Why should we care? If foreign food is cheaper, why not just import it? Well, first and most obvious, food security for this country is a vital element of national security. But, as already noted, agriculture forms a foundation for nearly 20 percent of U.S. economic output. Losing that production would both undercut our security, as well as our sources of employment and income.
Global Population. Put simply, publicly funded research has been the cornerstone of agricultural development. Most studies of rates of return to agricultural research generally indicate a return of between 30 to 70 percent. That is amazing considering the rates of return of many other types of research. But, agriculture has become a victim of its own success. Because food is available, cheap and safe, the American public takes for granted that we will continue to have our food without continuing to focus on agricultural research.
Out of sight, out of mind… But, the fact is that global population continues to expand. Food production must continue to expand if we are to meet the needs of a growing population. And, with growing incomes in China and other parts of the world, they’ll be demanding higher valued food products, increasing prices at home.
Large Dividends. Tighter budgets at the government level, changing short-term priorities at universities and government agencies, and the comfort level of the American public with current food production levels have all conspired to pressure future funding levels. Unfortunately, there are significant time lags, often as much as 30 years, between investments in basic agricultural research and the ultimate outcomes in the private sector. So, decisions we make today will affect both short-term research priorities and investments, as well as long-term agricultural productivity and competitiveness.
Clearly, past research expenditures have paid large dividends for society in terms of food supply, price and safety. Future competitiveness of U.S. food production hinges on technological advances from research. Investing in the future of U.S. agriculture is a sound, profitable decision. Agricultural research cannot become a relic of the past if we hope to sustain our economy and nation in the future.