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President’s Column

July 2019

This is my last Presidential Column and it was an honor and a pleasure to serve as the AAEA President. When I took this position, I expected to emphasize enhancing mentoring, improve services to members, and expand membership. But this year we had to face some challenges that occupied most of our time. First, the threat to the viability of the Economic Research Service (ERS). The members of the board and I were alarmed by the combination of significant reduction the ERS’s funds in the president’s budget, the proposal to move the ERS from the research arm of the USDA (REE) to the Office of the Chief Economist, and to relocate ERS outside of Washington, D.C. I always celebrated the freedom that the ERS had to study a broad range of issues and analyze rich databases associated with U.S. agriculture and the environment. The research by economists in the USDA has not only provided administrations with insight regarding immediate policy needs, but also provided a better understanding of the agrifood system overall. The risk facing support for agricultural research forced us to hire a government relations representative and to become actively involved in advocating for the profession of agricultural economics. This was not an easy decision to make, but I feel that we need to be involved and provide our membership an outlet to pursue continuous support and obtain adequate resources for agricultural economic research. Of course, we limit our lobbying efforts to represent the shared interest in a strong and well supported discipline. Thus far, we learned that the ERS will continue to remain part of the REE, but is planned to move to Kansas City around September. The lion’s share of the economists at the ERS will not move, which will compromise the ability of the agency to conduct applied research in times that are difficult for agriculture. We will work with department heads and others to prevent the move. But more importantly, if the move occurs we will work hard to make sure the departing employees are replaced and the capacity of the ERS to maintain top-quality research for the nation and the world is not compromised.

The other alarming situation that we encountered is the threat to the AAEA’s income from the publishers of our journal. There is an ongoing pressure to expand open access in publication, which will reduce the earning of the publishers and the royalties that the association earns from our journals. I believe that we need to obtain alternative sources of funding and this year I renewed the effort to expand our appreciation club program. We are starting four new appreciation clubs this year for Walt Armbruster, Susan Offutt, Richard Just, and Andrew Schmitz. I hope that in the next ten or fifteen years we can add another 50 or 60 appreciation clubs and that we will be able to raise additional funds to cover expenses, enrich our annual meeting, and provide services and benefits to our members.

One of the challenges facing the agricultural and applied economics profession is the transition and inclusion of new members. The base of agricultural economics has been the land grant colleges, but now many of our new faculty arrive from general economics departments and many of our students migrate to economics and business schools. We already have an effective mentorship program, in which we match senior members of the profession with some of our younger members during the meeting. I myself have established two very effective partnerships that began through this program. This year the mentorship committee arranged a wonderful workshop on multidisciplinary research at Tufts University. I want to thank Norbert Wilson for organizing this enjoyable and educational event. We are having a Post-conference Workshop on Early Career Mentoring 2-day Workshop in Atlanta, and we are likely to have another workshop for individuals beginning their careers in the profession later this year.

I am excited about our meeting in Atlanta. We have a rich and diverse program, plenary talks with outstanding speakers, very timely invited presentations and symposia, and diverse contributing and poster sessions. We also offer excellent pre- and post-conference events.

As the areas of coverage of applied economics are expanding and there is a need to provide our diverse communities with an opportunity to express themselves and interact. The proliferation of sections is one of the improvements and effective mechanisms that allow us to grow and to give people a more niche forum in which they can contribute and interact. At the same time, having a central program emphasizing the techniques that we share is important and to this end the program includes contributed and invited sessions that are shared by everybody. In an effort to enable as many people to contribute and participate as possible we have introduced lightning sessions as well as widened our poster session. I hope that you all benefit from our meeting.

The heart of the association is people, and the meeting is a mechanism to rekindle and strengthen friendships and to create collaborations and partnerships. We have a strong social program including our award ceremonies, and warm reunions and receptions. Atlanta offers wonderful touring opportunities, so you may want to bring your family and make this meeting a vacation.

While being AAEA President is time consuming, it is enjoyable. You get to know and appreciate the members, the diversity of the profession, and its centrality in economic research globally. I am amazed and thankful for the dedication of the members to the association, the large amounts of time and effort our members voluntarily devote to make the AAEA stronger, and our member-volunteers’ work with the excellent EDI professional staff headed by Kristen McGuire, who really reduce our transaction costs and allow us to concentrate on doing our job. I am also fortunate to be part of a troika of presidents (this term Scott Swinton was Past-President and Keith Coble was president-elect), working closely with very dedicated, professional, and smart board members, several of whom will make excellent presidents in the future. This leadership structure allows for continuous learning and sharing of responsibilities and builds a strong institutional memory. I leave this position very optimistic about the future of the Agricultural & Applied Economic Association and the profession. I am also convinced that our unique background and mission allow us to generate research and educational products that are distinct and unique and to provide a bridge between economics, the sciences, and practitioners in the real world. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you.

David Zilberman
AAEA President