Saturday, April 29, 2017

Choices Magazine explores 3-way connections between farm labor, immigration, and health care

Choices Magazine, the outreach magazine of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), has a special issue exploring the triangle of connections between farm labor, immigration reform, and health care policy. Philip Martin at UC Davis writes:
The Trump Administration has promised to make it more difficult for unauthorized foreigners to enter and work in the United States and for undocumented workers to access health care services. Such policies, if implemented, could have serious negative repercussions on the agricultural sector, which relies heavily on immigrant workers. Replacing foreign workers could be complicated due to difficulties in sourcing and hiring domestic workers to replace displaced undocumented workers. Additionally, the health deterioration of farm workers could negatively impact labor productivity, the sector’s viability, and the nation’s domestic food supply.
Cesar L. Escalante and Tianyuan Luo focus on the implications for laborers -- and the farmers who hire them -- of reducing access to health care. Thomas P. Krumel, Jr., has an interesting article about immigrant labor supply in the meatpacking industry, including its implications for meat prices.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Storm Lake Times wins Pulitzer for courageous reporting about agriculture and political power

The Storm Lake Times, a tiny newspaper in rural Iowa, became the topic of headlines around the world this week after it won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the local political power of agricultural interests.

In this piece by Art Cullen, for example, the paper explored how the Farm Bureau funded the county-level legal defense against accusations that excessive fertilizer use had polluted local water supplies. The Farm Bureau's "generosity" came with a catch.
Buena Vista County officially is a Farm Bureau county. The Farm Bureau and Iowa Corn Growers have pledged to cover the legal bills of Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties as they defend themselves against a lawsuit filed by the Des Moines Water Works over pollution of the Raccoon River. The supervisors are expected to happily agree. The BV supervisors looked like the cat that just swallowed the canary upon announcing the deal.
They are happy that Farm Bureau is setting the terms of the legal defense and not the elected officials of our county. We have given up our franchise.
The supervisors believe they have no choice but to allow Farm Bureau to pay the bills and thus call the shots. They already called one shot: In the Farm Bureau engagement letter proposed to the counties, it states that the counties shall not claim that farmers are liable for pollution claims in the lawsuit in order to hold drainage districts or the county itself harmless.
Let us pause for a moment of appreciation for everybody whose work requires them, on occasion, to speak a hard truth.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Tufts/UConn RIDGE concept papers due March 13 (reminder)

The Tufts/UConn RIDGE Program supports innovative economic research on domestic nutrition assistance programs.

As a reminder, the 2017 submission cycle concept paper deadline is Monday, March 13, 2017 by 5PM EST. Slides and a recording are available for a February 2 informational webinar for potential applicants. Additional details are available below and on the RIDGE funding page

The RIDGE Program aims to broaden the network of researchers applying their expertise to USDA topics. We seek applications from a diverse community of experienced nutrition assistance researchers, graduate students, early career scholars, and established researchers who bring expertise in another research area.

Full details are available in the 2017 Request for Proposals (RFP)

Important Dates for the 2017 Submission Cycle
Concept paper due:                                 March 13, 2017
Full proposal (by invitation) due:                May 15, 2017
Funding period (up to 18 months):             July 11, 2017 – January 10, 2019

For additional questions, contact

How much does a nutritious diet cost?

Jeremy Cherfas, host of Eat This Podcast, led this lively conversation about the cost of a nutritious diet:
Recently I’ve been involved in a couple of online discussions about the cost of a nutritious diet. The crucial issue is why poor people in rich countries seem to have such unhealthy diets. One argument is about the cost of food. Another is about everything other than cost: knowledge, equipment, time, conditions.
My own opinion is that given all those other things, the externalities, a nutritious diet is actually not that expensive. But that’s just an opinion, so I went looking for information, and found it in a paper entitled Using the Thrifty Food Plan to Assess the Cost of a Nutritious Diet, published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs in 2009. The very first sentence of that paper is:
How much does a nutritious diet cost?
Parke Wilde, author of that paper, is an agricultural economist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, and I really enjoyed talking to him for the podcast.

Friday, January 27, 2017

U.S.-Mexico agricultural trade helps the U.S. economy and nutrition for consumers

For the United States, trade with Mexico offers many benefits for the economy and dietary quality for American consumers. 

Regarding the economic benefits, a recent August 2016 article in the magazine Amber Waves, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- by USDA economists Steven Zahniser, Adriana Moreno, and Arturo Ruanova -- emphasizes the contribution of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Gradually, from 1994 to 2008, they write, NAFTA removed tariffs and quotas, while at the same time reconciling rules on both sides of the border about how food safety is protected:
Together, this sweeping trade liberalization and ongoing regulatory cooperation made possible a dramatic increase in U.S.-Mexico agricultural trade.
The results included an enormous jump in export sales to Mexico, benefiting U.S. farmers. A chart in the Amber Waves article shows that agricultural trade with Mexico is nearly in balance, with agricultural exports equal to or exceeding imports in most years.

USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service has a page devoted to agricultural exports to Mexico, with statistics, links to agricultural trade offices in Mexico City and Monterrey, and a guide for exporters who seek to do business in Mexico. The top 5 U.S. export industries are dairy ($1.3 billion), pork ($1.3 billion), beef ($1.1 billion), poultry ($1.0 billion), and prepared food ($707 billion). Producers in these industries are important to the U.S. agricultural economy, and they are politically influential.

Like the Amber Waves article, USDA's FAS notes the role of NAFTA in this trade:
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico and the United States have eliminated all tariffs and quantitative restrictions on agricultural goods and have strengthened scientific ties to eradicate diseases and pests, conduct research and enhance conservation.
Moving beyond just agricultural products, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has a web page devoted just to trade with Mexico. For U.S. producers, Mexico was the second-biggest export market in the world. Total U.S. trade with Mexico is more in balance than trade with several other countries. In 2015, U.S. exports to Mexico were an astonishing $240 billion, almost double our exports to China. Meanwhile, U.S. imports from Mexico were $294 billion, much less than our imports from China. Our trade deficit with Mexico is just $54 billion (much smaller than our deficit with China, Germany, or Japan, for example).

For nutrition, federal government sources place a heavy priority on increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. For example, the Healthy People 2020 initiative lists fruit and vegetable consumption as "Leading Health Indicators" and proposes ambitious goals for increased consumption.

USDA data on food imports show that fruit imports from Mexico increased almost 6-fold from 2000 ($0.8 billion) to 2014 ($4.7 billion). Similarly, vegetable imports from Mexico increased 3-fold from 2000 ($1.7 billion) to 2014 ($5.4 billion). With increased tariffs or reduced trade with Mexico, fruit and vegetable prices in the United States would be much higher. The consequence of reduced agricultural trade with Mexico would be that Mexicans would have more fruits and vegetables (and less beef, pork, and processed food), while U.S. consumers would have less fruits and vegetables (and more beef, pork, and processed food).

I always read with great care the large literature by public interest advocates who raise serious concerns about agricultural trade with Mexico. For example, Tom Philpott at Mother Jones describes conditions for agricultural workers in Mexico as "heartbreaking." Food and Water Watch argues that provisions for sanitary/phytosanitary rules in existing and proposed trade agreements are too weak. I hear the point of each, and yet think that reduced trade is not the remedy. I do not think the workers in Tom's story are helped by shutting down the U.S. Mexico border, and I think Mexico is capable of producing food to the same standards as producers in Florida or California. Looking forward beyond the hardships that excellent public interest sources have noted, we can improve labor and food safety standards without exaggerating differences across the border as if we had our own house fully in order.

In short, U.S.-Mexico trade is important and beneficial to the U.S. economy and nutrition. You can hear this view from me, and (as of this writing) you can hear it from the steady, sober online data sources maintained by the federal government.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tufts/UConn RIDGE Center releases Request for Proposals (RFP) for economic research on U.S. nutrition assistance programs

Please share this week's announcement with potential researchers:
The Tufts/UConn RIDGE Center seeks to support innovative economic research on domestic nutrition assistance programs and to broaden a network of researchers applying their expertise to USDA topics. The RIDGE Center seeks applications from a diverse community of experienced nutrition assistance researchers, graduate students, early career scholars, and established researchers who bring expertise in another research area.

Full details are available in the 2017 Request for Proposals (RFP). Additional information will be provided during the RIDGE Center Information Webinar for Applicants, Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 2PM EST. Please provide your email to receive information on joining the webinar.

Important Dates for the 2017 Submission Cycle:
  • Request for proposals release: January 23, 2017
  • Informational webinar for applicants: February 2, 2017
  • Concept paper due: March 13, 2017
  • Full proposal (by invitation) due: May 15, 2017
  • Funding period (up to 18 months): July 11, 2017 – January 10, 2019
For additional questions, contact
Here is our October announcement about the start of this Center:
Medford, Mass./Hartford, Conn.- A new center at Tufts University and the University of Connecticut will focus on economic research aimed at enhancing food security and dietary quality for low-income Americans through the nation’s nutrition assistance programs.

The research center brings together the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts and the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, two institutions with long records of research leadership in this area.

The Tufts/University of Connecticut RIDGE (Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics) Center will be funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (for one grant cycle immediately and potentially up to 3 grant cycles in total).

Parke Wilde, associate professor at the Friedman School, will serve as the RIDGE Center Director, and Tatiana Andreyeva, associate professor in the UConn Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Director of Economic Initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, will be the RIDGE Center Associate Director.

“Nutrition assistance programs have a central role in making sure all Americans have access to sufficient – and sufficiently healthy – food for their families,” Wilde said. “This Tufts/UConn RIDGE Center will help build the diverse network of researchers needed to study what these programs do and how they can do it more efficiently.”

“The new center will offer competitive small-scale grants to support innovative research on nutrition assistance programs. The center’s mission is to further strengthen and expand the research community through vigorous outreach, mentoring and networking with established scholars and promising new talent in the field,” Andreyeva said. “We will aim to fund a diverse group of experienced and emerging researchers, representing a range of backgrounds, disciplines and regions of the country.”

The new RIDGE Center funding offers an exciting opportunity for a diversity of new and experienced researchers in the area of nutrition assistance, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and child nutrition programs. The Center will help connect researchers from around the country to current information about USDA program and policy interests, offering promise for sound research with real-world usefulness.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

American Enterprise Institute (AEI) report on poverty, hunger, and U.S. agricultural policy

In a new report for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Dan Sumner, Joe Glauber, and I consider all the different ways that farm programs could affect prices or incomes, which in turn could affect poverty and nutrition for low-income Americans. We conclude:
Despite occasional claims to the contrary, farm subsidy programs have little impact on food consumption, food security, or nutrition in the United States.
It might surprise you to hear that this is a widely held view among researchers and policy analysts in agricultural economics. Interestingly, it depends little on a person's political ideology.

Strongly market-oriented economists tend to describe farm subsidy programs as an ineffective use of tax dollars. Ryan Nabil and Vincent Smith write this week in Inside Sources:
There is no poverty and nutrition alleviation rationale for U.S. farm subsidies because they do not have any meaningful effects on poverty. These programs simply transfer government monies mostly to well-off folks who can afford competent lobbyists but are in no need of government handouts.
At the same time, the Environmental Working Group writes this week:
Last fall, an EWG investigation debunked the agriculture industry’s claims that American farms “feed the world.” In fact, fewer than 1 percent of U.S. exports go toward feeding the hungriest nations.
Now, a study by three leading experts shows that federal farm subsidy programs such as crop insurance don’t help feed hungry Americans either.
An analysis by Joseph Glauber, Daniel Sumner and Parke Wilde for the American Enterprise Institute confirms that farm subsidies don’t improve food security for poor Americans – even for those who live in farm country.
Before reaching our conclusions, Joe, Dan, and I tried to contemplate a wide array of ways that somebody could say farm programs help the nutrition status of the poor in the United States. For example, perhaps the programs lower prices of beneficial foods (but they don't), or perhaps they help the income of poor farmers (but they go mostly to more prosperous farmers), or perhaps they help farm workers by increasing labor demand in certain industries (but the least labor-intensive industries get more subsidies).

In a spirit of open communication across diverse traditions, especially this particular week, I look forward to participating in the AEI event this Monday, Jan 23, connected with the release of this report.