What does an Agricultural Economist do?

C. Mitchell

The field of agricultural economics is a broad one in most places. What once was a discipline devoted to the economics of land management and livestock maximization has expanded to include research into renewable resources; rural land and community planning; government farm subsidy and loan financing programs; and environmental agribusiness, among other things. An agricultural economist may work for government agencies at either the national or the local level, helping to plan the mathematical side of successful farm policies. Others may work with land planning or farm futures firms, managing communities or analyzing agriculture-related investment opportunities. Still others work in academia, teaching the agricultural economists of tomorrow.

Those who work in agricultural economics should be at home both on a farm and using computers and other technology.
Those who work in agricultural economics should be at home both on a farm and using computers and other technology.

Agriculture is an important part of every country’s national agenda. Countries with robust agricultural systems have the ability to be self-sustaining, and those that have learned to maximize their natural resources are in many ways more stable on both internal and international fronts. Supporting a healthy agricultural economy does not usually happen by itself, however. Practices that are good for a farming community in one generation might not be sustainable over time, just as agriculture and food management activities designed to benefit a nation as a whole might prove detrimental for the rural communities they touch. The job of the agricultural economist is to analyze a given agricultural situation, then strategize a plan to sustain and maximize it over time for mutual benefit.

An agricultural economist might deal with livestock maximaization.
An agricultural economist might deal with livestock maximaization.

The work of every agricultural economist focuses on how the calculations, projections, and statistical analyses of economics can be applied to farming and land development. Economics as a discipline is centered on resource management and allocation. In an agricultural setting, the resources at issue are land, farm equipment and livestock, and natural resources like coal, fresh water, and natural gas. The agricultural economist is involved in maximizing those resources in a way that allows for the continued success and propagation of agricultural life.

Economics and agriculture intersect in many different ways, and agricultural jobs that involve economics are similarly wide-reaching. Agricultural economists work in many different kinds of jobs, for many different employers. Some do most of their work at a desk, reading reports, drawing conclusions on economic trends, and performing calculations and agriculture analysis. Others may work in the field, interviewing farmers, surveying land, and looking at the layouts and outputs of rural and farming communities. Some write analysis to teach, and others to advocate; some work with legislatures, and some lobby governments on behalf of farmers.

Despite the differences in their work, at the end of the day a whole range of professionals can be called "agricultural economist." Given the breadth of the shared agricultural and economic issues in any given country or community, agricultural economists necessarily perform a whole host of agricultural jobs and functions. Still, from training to passion and all things in between, professionals in the field have many important things in common.

Agricultural economics includes farm subsidy and loan programs.
Agricultural economics includes farm subsidy and loan programs.

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Discussion Comments


An economist with a solid background in agriculture can write his own ticket in some rural parts of the nation. They can teach, forecast coming trends that could impact rural economies, help develop strategies that lead to efficient uses of farmland, etc. In some areas, economists can help develop growth strategies so that, say, food producing industries set up in largely agricultural areas and provide jobs.

There is an almost endless list of jobs for agricultural economists and there are even some professions that don't require the economist to live in a rural area. For example, let's say you've got a brokerage that represents large poultry, beef or pork companies. A good economist who understands what influences grain prices on the Chicago Board of Trade could help his or her clients make wise purchases.

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