July 21, 2018 | ° F

Department recognizes 100th year anniversary, discusses agriculture and politics

Photo by Tianfang Yu |

Daniel Rossi, an administrator with the Northeast Regional Association of Agricultural Experiment Stations, moderates the panel.

The United States government intervened in New Jersey’s agricultural market more than seven decades ago, cutting revenues and increasing costs for the state’s tomato industry. 

In response to the federal government’s intrusion, Rutgers’ Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics went to Washington, D.C., to get the government to backtrack.

Yesterday evening, DAFRE held a reception and panel discussion to celebrate its 100th anniversary at the Cook Student Center.

The department was founded in 1914 as the farm management division in the Department of Agronomy. Agricultural lab research prior to 1914 took place in New Jersey Hall on the College Avenue campus, said Paul Gottlieb, DAFRE chair.

The department has seen increasing importance after its establishment in 1914, he said. 

“[At that time] we were specialized in farm management, especially on data and calculations helping farmers figure out what their costs are,” Gottlieb said. “In the 1920s, when the government put income taxes on companies, these calculations took on a more important role.”

Gottlieb said DAFRE experienced three name changes. Previous names included the “Department of Agriculture Economics,” adopted in 1924, and the “Department of Agriculture Economics and Marketing,” adopted in 1965. 

Gottlieb said the main implications of the names were that they added their areas of research to keep up with the times.

“Rutgers, as a state University, has the responsibility of agriculture study and research for the community,” he said.

The department also adjusted its role and areas of study in accordance with changes in market, society and academia, he said. 

As the food processing industry became increasingly important over the course of 20th century, researches in the department began focusing on the manufacturing aspects besides farming, he said. 

“That’s why we added [the word] ‘food’ in the title to agriculture,” he said.

Rutgers also kept itself up with the emergence of environmental economics in the 1970s by adding it to the undergraduate curriculum, he said and later incorporating it into the department name in the 1990s. 

The names manifest how the department develops over time, he said.

“[We are developing ourselves] along the supply chain, from farm gate to plate,” he said. 

The department is concerned with the social science aspect of agriculture and food production and addresses related economics issues.

While plant scientists help farmers figure out what plants best suited the soil, DAFRE helps them figure out questions such as which crop is more profitable and how to lower their cost, Gottlieb said.

The department has pioneered agriculture economics from the beginning of its establishment.

“In the early years, we collected [our] first data when nobody had done it anywhere,” Gottlieb said. “In an age without computer, we had farmers fill out surveys about their production practices, commodity choices and output, and provided them necessary information about the market.”

DAFRE also pioneered the practices locally, setting an example for Washington, D.C., to take up and do nationally, he said. 

The department not only advised local farmers on their production, but also the state of New Jersey and the United State government on agriculture policies.

One of the panelists, Richard Sexton, professor and chair of the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at the University of California-Davis, spoke about the “renaissance” of agriculture economics and the challenges the discipline faces.

“Challenges that agricultural economics address are complex,” Sexton said. “They include diminishing farm land because of urban development, climate change, steady growth of population and [the] food crisis in the developing world.”

He also said new agricultural economics uses more sophisticated models of the market, analyzes a wide range of government policies, regulations and programs and utilizes more enhanced econometrics and computing resources in analysis. 

Gottlieb said the goal of the department is to address agriculture, food and resources issues with an integrated program of teaching, research and outreach.

DAFRE gets a stream of funding from federal, state and local government to help the state farmers and deal with agricultural and resource problems such as water resources and pest control, he said.

“We also have projects in urban areas because of our focus on the food manufacturing industry,” Gottlieb said. “We are funded not only to teach and research, but there is also a responsibility to citizens in the area.”

John Schmitt, a Rutgers alumnus who earned his bachelor’s of science in 1966 and a master’s of science in 1971 in agricultural economics, talked about his experience.

“I worked in the pharmaceutical business all my career, although it didn’t have that much to do with agricultural economics,” he said.

But he now considers it a “wonderful major” because of the tremendous background knowledge needed in analyzing problems, such as biology and chemistry, because it applies to business in general, and also helped him in his career.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly labeled the picture of Daniel Rossi as Paul Gottlieb, chair of the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics.

Weini Zhang

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