Perceptions of agriculture don't reflect new reality, expert says
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- On a long drive to Lexington, Ky., Purdue agricultural economist
Michael Boehlje [BOWL-jee] was thinking of how he was constantly having to explain
to people how agriculture is changing at the end of the 20th century.
He picked up his tape recorder and began listing the old perceptions of farming and
the coming realities of agribusiness. The list has been met with enthusiasm from
his academic peers, and it was published in the economics journal Choices.
"Some of these trends reflect what is already happening in the agriculture industry,"
Boehlje says. "Most of these trends are still on the horizon, although it's a horizon
that's not that far away.
"The world of agriculture is moving to an industrialized model of production. Farmers
are no longer looking to produce a generic product, such as corn, but are interested
in biologically producing unique products with a specific end use in mind, such as
white corn for corn chips."
In addition to white corn, other targeted products might soon include high-oil corn,
tofu soybeans, soybeans high in certain amino acids for livestock feed, and, in the
not-too-distant future, even different varieties of corn and soybeans grown as feed
for specific species of livestock.
"Most of these concepts will surface in commercial or farm situations at the beginning
of the 21st century," Boehlje says, "but considering that's only four years away,
we are on the verge of seeing most of these concepts become reality."
Here's his list of the old vs. the new.
Markets and commodities
Agriculture is an art form. New:
Agriculture is primarily science- or R&D-based.
Agriculture is synonymous with farming and the production of commodities. New:
Agriculture is responsible for manufacturing food products, and it represents the
entire food production and distribution system.
Agriculture is made up of family farms and small businesses. New:
Agriculture is made up of large-scale or industrialized interests.
Operating farmers own most of the farm land. New:
Much (41 percent) of the farmland is owned by nonoperators.
Farming is a healthy and safe lifestyle. New:
Farming is a hazardous occupation.
Consumer attitudes toward agriculture
Impersonal markets are open to all. New:
Markets are personal, negotiated, exclusive.
Farmers have an adversarial relationship with suppliers and purchasers New:
Farmers form partnerships with suppliers and purchasers.
Farmers produce their own inputs (insourcing), such as replacing livestock or growing
Farmers buy inputs from someone else (outsourcing).
Market prices bring risk. New:
Relationships are risky but offer price security.
Farmers are independent. New:
Farmers have inter-dependence within systems.
New technologies are prized. New:
New ways of doing business are prized.
Information about research and developments is available from land grant universities
and is open to the public. New:
Information about research and developments from corporations is private, proprietary
and not available to the public.
Government involvement in agriculture
Farmers and the environment
The federal budget has adequate funds to support agriculture. New:
Federal and state budgets are in deficit, which leaves less funding for agriculture.
Farmers have significant political influence. New:
Farmers have limited political influence.
Farmers are economically disadvantaged. New:
Farmers' income is comparable to others.
Income from farming measures a farmer's economic well-being. New:
Household income measures a farmer's economic well-being.
Private property rights are sacred. New:
Society is reserving more property rights for the public.
Personal and professional skills required of farmers
The USDA is the most important governmental agency for farmers. New:
The EPA is the most important governmental agency for farmers.
Farmers use and exploit resources to maintain or increase productivity. New:
Farmers protect resources and practice environmentally sound use of resources to
Efficiency is paramount . New:
Preserving the environment is paramount.
Technical skills and core competencies are critical to success in agriculture. New:
Communication, personal skills, and new or unique skills are critical to success
Tradition and remembering are important in agriculture. New:
New ideas are important in agriculture -- forget how it was done in the past.
Farmers have higher moral standards, a strong work ethic and generally higher values
than those of the general population. New:
Farmers are no different in terms of values, work ethic, or moral standards than
the rest of society.
Economic well-being of rural communities depends upon farming. New:
Economic well-being of rural communities depends on nonfarm activity.
Rural areas have a higher quality of life than urban areas. New:
Rural areas have a quality of life that is lower or the same as urban areas.
Source: Michael Boehlje, e-mail, email@example.com
Farmers produce staples such as corn, soybeans, beef or pork. New:
produce fashion or niche products such as white corn, tofu soybeans, or very lean
Assets determine what the farm will produce. New:
Customer demands determine what the farm will produce.
Hard assets -- land, machinery, buildings -- are an agribusiness's prime source of
strategic competitive advantage. New:
Soft assets -- people, organization, plans -- are an agribusiness's prime source of
Livestock production sites are concentrated in a geographical area. New:
Production sites are geographically dispersed or separated to prevent disease, to
reduce the environmental impact in one area, and because of improved transportation
Agribusinesses strive to own assets. New:
Agribusinesses strive to control assets.
Money, finances, and assets are the sources of an agribusiness's power and control. New:
Information is the prime source of an agribusiness's power and control.
Labor is an expense, and equipment is an investment. New:
Labor is an investment, and equipment is an expense.
Writer: Steve Tally, (765) 494-9809; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, email@example.com
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