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President's Column

September 2018

I am truly honored and humbled to be President of AAEA and I was encouraged by the successful 2018 AAEA Annual Meeting. Since both the International Association of Agricultural Economists (IAAE) meeting and World Congress of Environmental Economics were earlier this summer, I was worried about conference fatigue and low attendance. But we had more than 1,700 people in attendance, compared with 1,300 at IAAE and 1,200 at the World conference, which is encouraging. I really liked our conference; it was short and sweet, and I always enjoy our reunions and receptions and the sense of community that are presented. We had four excellent plenary speakers, diverse and interesting sessions and posters, and a wonderful 2018 Awards & Fellows Recognition Ceremony, all at a great venue. I want to thank all the people who contributed to the event in both AAEA and EDI. They set a high standard for the future.

But that was a long time ago. Once I assumed my new duties, we learned that Secretary Perdue came with the idea to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) away from Washington, D.C., out of the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) unit of the USDA, and to reassign it to the Office of the Chief Economist (OCE). Since that followed the failed attempt by the administration to reduce the budget of ERS by 48%, I was very alarmed. I see our main responsibility as supporting the opportunities of our membership and to facilitate excellent and diverse research in agricultural and applied economics. Moving ERS further outside of Washington, D.C. will result in the retirement of many members, and I’m not sure that they will be replaced. Furthermore, ERSs effectiveness may decline if it is moved further away from sister agencies like the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). While the OCE has had outstanding leadership and an excellent reputation, it emphasizes shorter term policy issues and is likely to downplay some of the crucial research in ERS.

More importantly, I am concerned by the attempt to move economics from REE, which may reduce our access to some of the activities of REE. In my 40 years as an agricultural economist, I have realized that some natural scientists may not recognize the contributions of agricultural economics and would like to see research money allocated to “hard” sciences that emphasize mostly production. The well-being of agriculture is not measured by productivity but the ability to develop markets and to design appropriate policies to address issues of competition, consumer welfare, and environmental protection. Agricultural economics was instrumental in ensuring the well-being of farmers, consumers, researchers, and the environment by improving the policy environment and providing high-quality information that allowed sound decision-making. While some may disagree on the details, the members of our board have similar perspectives. We recently agreed that the board can take policy positions "in support of research, education, and outreach related to agricultural and applied economics." Along these lines, AAEA Past President, Scott Swinton, President-Elect, Keith Coble, and I, working with the rest of the board, have taken several actions. We initiated a letter protesting the move, which was signed by Department heads and Deans and submitted to the leadership of the house and senate.   We engaged in partnerships with other groups to protect our membership.  In the government relations section of website we provide different perspectives on the  proposed move, including  instructions how to contact your representatives. For more information and resources regarding the USDA-ERS changes, please visit the new “Resources on USDA Economic Research Service” we have put together. There are documents on USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue’s announcement about realignment and relocation, background information, news coverage, opinion pieces, and AAEAs official letter related to ERS. We realized that we need to have a day-to-day capacity to interact with government agencies and other groups, and therefore we have engaged Caron Gala as an independent contractor to be our government relations representative in Washington, D.C. Caron was formerly the Executive Director of C-FARE and we need to reformulate our relationship with C-FARE, which has done an outstanding job in support in support of our profession and enlightening the public about the value of agricultural economics.

This is not what I expected when moving into the president’s role, but the board and I are ready for the challenge. Striving to protect our association is only part of our agenda. Later, I will speak in more detail on other initiatives. I intend to increase our resources by initiating an effort to expand the number of appreciation clubs. I hope to start a program to educate new assistant professors about the profession, its institutions, and challenges. And I am always looking for suggestions and advice on other initiatives and ideas to improve our association. Thank you for your support and I am looking forward to this coming year.

David Zilberman
AAEA President