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K-State Today

November 3, 2014

New book delves into depolarizing food, agriculture

Submitted by Mary Lou Peter

Food producers are often at odds but solutions are possible, economists say.

Conventional versus organic? Local production or global food sourcing? For one reason or another, those involved in growing and raising our food are often at odds with one another.

A new book, "Depolarizing Food and Agriculture: An Economic Approach," takes a look at the origins, validity, consequences and potential resolution of the different and often opposing stances taken by groups involved in the food business.

"Many issues in food and agriculture have become disputes — some of them serious conflicts, with no end in sight," said Andrew Barkley, a professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University and one of the book's authors. "The economic approach offers a greater understanding of why these disagreements came about, and how they can be resolved. We wrote this book to share the economic approach, which provides greater appreciation for both sides of these important issues."

Barkley, who also is a university distinguished teaching scholar at K-State, co-wrote the book with his father, Paul W. Barkley, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at Washington State University and adjunct professor at Oregon State University. Paul Barkley earned a doctorate at K-State in 1963.

The divide between industry groups often stems from political or legal actions that confuse consumers, many of whom are considering the impact of their food choices on nutrition, health, the environment, animal welfare and hunger, Andrew Barkley said.

The book summarizes and extends Paul Barkley's 50 years of research and Andrew Barkley's research on agricultural labor markets, wheat markets, and public policy in his more than 25 years at K-State. Their research emphasizes that the one constant in food and agriculture markets is change. Changes in technology, production practices, consumer desires, and policies occur constantly, and change is often disruptive. Since change has both winners and losers, it can be polarizing, especially in a rapidly-evolving sector like food and agriculture.

Based on a United Nations prediction that the world's population will grow from the current 7.2 billion people to 9.6 billion by 2050, it is more important than ever for agricultural producers to figure out the best ways to meet the demand for food, Andrew Barkley added. In some cases that might mean working together or at least understanding a different perspective.  

The book is available online.