On Small vs. Large Farms: Yours Truly in the Washington Post

Small, diversified farms are less efficient than large ones. Which means that food grown on them is more expensive. Marc Bellemare, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s department of applied economics, calls farmers market produce “luxury goods,” and Tim Griffin, director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, explains the dynamic simply: economy of scale. “As the farms get larger, it’s easier to invest in labor-saving machinery, technology and specialized management, and production cost per unit goes down,” he says. It’s Econ 101.

Even John Ikerd, professor emeritus of agriculture and applied economics at the University of Missouri and an outspoken advocate of the idea that small organic farms ought to feed the world — an idea Bellemare calls “wishful thinking” — acknowledges that we’d need many more farmers to make that happen, and that food would be more expensive.

From an article in the Washington Post last week.

In the middle of July, I received an email from Tamar Haspel, who writes the Unearthed column about food for the Washington Post, and who is herself a farmer (she farms oysters on the coast of Massachusetts). She wanted to talk about the inverse relationship between farm size and productivity, which I have written about both on this blog and in a 2010 article in World Development. The end result is the article I link to above.

Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish? Because It is Efficient to Do So (and a New Working Paper)

From an op-ed published this summer in the New York Times:

Sending all this wild fish abroad and then importing farmed fish to replace it is enough to make you want to take a stiff drink and go to bed. But when you wake up and reach for your bagel, surprise! The fish swap will get you again.

The United States imports seafood in increasing numbers, even for salmon, which it has in abundance.

The prevalence of imported farmed salmon on our bagels is doubly curious because the United States possesses all the wild salmon it could possibly need. Five species of Pacific salmon return to Alaskan rivers every year, generating several hundred million pounds of fish flesh every year. Where does it all go?

Again, abroad. Increasingly to Asia. Alaska, by far our biggest fish-producing state, exports around three-quarters of its salmon.

To make things triply strange, a portion of that salmon, after heading across the Pacific, returns to us: Because foreign labor is so cheap, many Alaskan salmon are caught in American waters, frozen, defrosted in Asia, filleted and boned, refrozen and sent back to us. Pollock also make this Asian round trip, as do squid — and who knows what else?

When you dig into the fish-trade data, things get murkier. In its 2012 summary of the international fish trade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted, somewhat bizarrely, that its definition of exports “may include merchandise of both domestic and foreign origin.”

So, for example, when fish sticks are cut from blocks of imported “white fish” in an American facility and exported to a foreign country, they are classified as American domestic production. Meanwhile some of our imports, as with an unknowable portion of our salmon, are taken from American waters, reprocessed elsewhere and brought back home. …

And that’s my point. Globalization, that unseen force that supposedly eliminates inefficiencies through the magic of trade, has radically disconnected us from our seafood supply.

Continue reading

Summer Wrap-Up (and Blog Fatigue)

MachuPicchu
Machu Picchu (Photo: Marc F. Bellemare).

I’m an academic, which means that my summers are characterized by high expectations and low productivity.

Every spring, I make a list of all the research projects I want to work on during the summer. Inevitably, by the time September comes around, I have accomplished about half of what I had set out to do.

So it goes. Which is not to say that my summer was completely unproductive. Here is a list of things that I did spend time on this summer, in no particular order: Continue reading

EAAE Quality of Research Discovery Award for Bellemare, Barrett, and Just (2013)

No, this is not a repost of this previous post of mine. Similar prize for sure, but different professional association. Whereas my previous post was about the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), this time, my coauthors and I have won the European Association of Agricultural Economists’ (EAAE) Quality of Research Discovery award for my paper titled “The Welfare Impacts of Commodity Price Volatility: Evidence from Rural Ethiopia.”

As per the EAAE’s website, to win the Quality of Research Discovery award,

The research must be a significant contribution to the field of knowledge in any of the areas of agricultural economics. The work should demonstrate excellence in research and may deal with conceptual as well as empirical analysis of a relevant issue.

I’ve discussed our award-winning paper many times on this blog, but here is the abstract in case you are new here: Continue reading

Food Price Levels and Food Price Volatility in India

From a longer column by Pramit Bhattacharya published last week in Mint, one of India’s leading financial newspapers:

While many acknowledge the key role of dearer food in destabilizing regimes, right from the time of the French Revolution in the 18th century to the Arab Spring in 2011, there are only a few studies that have sought to study the links between food prices and social unrest empirically. In a recent research paper, the economist Marc Bellemare of the University of Minnesota attempts to fill that gap by establishing a causal link between rising food prices and social unrest. …

Bellemare collates monthly cross-country data on food riots between 1990 and 2011 to show that it is the level of food prices rather than the volatility in food prices that drives food riots across countries. …

In most democracies, policymakers are aware of the links between food inflation and political upheavals. But food policies designed to prevent price volatility can be very different from those designed to prevent food price increases. India is a case in point. As my colleague TCA Sharad Raghavan pointed out in a recent article, while India’s closed door policies have managed to limit volatility in food prices, they have led to an increase in food prices by preventing imports of cheaper food. Perhaps, it is time to embrace more openness and volatility, if it brings with it lower prices on average, and greater political stability.

You can read the whole thing here. Much to his credit, Pramit is the only person to have reported on this who has grasped (and clearly explained) the levels vs. volatility distinction. See the bolded part above for a great example that I wish I would have thought about when writing my paper, as it would have made my life much easier.

ht: Rajib Sutradhar.