[Originally posted 31 August 2012]
The NZARES conference is on at the moment. I was there yesterday, enjoying sunny Nelson and the good company of ag and resource economists. The theme this year is ‘Green Growth: Logical Possibility or Oxymoron?’ Most of the papers focused on some aspect of the interaction between agriculture and the environment: measuring impacts, framing or describing impacts (framing farming, if you will), building models, and, of course, valuing impacts.
There is a lot of useful thinking going on in this area. Two of the ideas that struck me:
- Social licence to farm: this was an idea discussed by a few speakers. Because farmers create impacts beyond the farm gate, they rely on a social licence to operate. In turn, the licence relies on the rest of society having some understanding of farming and trust in farmers to make ‘the right’ decision, however that is defined. When a few farmers produce impacts that are frowned upon (and telegenic), that trust is eroded and the licence is under threat. Farms as SMEs (small and medium enterprises) are possibly more closely scrutinised than other businesses; their licence seems to be more contingent. There’s a research idea right there — any graduate students out there interested?
- Balancing trade-offs: we are, inevitably, talking about having more of something and less of another. How do we communicate this issue? Economists probably think more about trade-offs than most people, but as a result we think the idea is less remarkable. Even the language can be a problem. ‘Trading off’ highlights the underlying equivalence or commensurability, even for things considered inviolate. ‘Balancing’ is a nicer term, but in practice still means figuring out how much X we’ll give up for more Y. This discussion also moves us from averages to marginals, again where economists feel comfortable but other people might not.
I suggest having a look at the programme and reading some of the papers once they are posted on AgEcon Search. Alternatively, the authors will no doubt provide a copy if you contact them.