Academic research neglects technology

A researcher finds little written about hot producer topics such as farm equipment in ag economic journals

At farm shows and conferences the hottest topics tend to be machinery and technology.

And in seminars and workshops, strategic planning is something many farm managers enthusiastically attend.

But you don’t tend to see that reflected in mainstream U.S. agricultural economics academic journals focused on farm management, according to a researcher who studied a leading journal.

“There are only a handful of people working in machinery and technology,” said Terry Griffin, a Kansas State University researcher and expert on precision farming.

But when it comes to the well-trodden area of farmland values, Griffin and Sara Gammon found a plethora of articles in the Journal of the Society of American Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers since 2000.

In the 330 article titles analyzed, most years had multiple articles on farmland values but sometimes no articles on machinery, technology or strategic planning.

Even an area of enormous interest and concern for farmers, that of “risk,” had few citations compared to “crops” or “farmland.”

This skewed representation of farm management topics in arguably the most influential academic journal in the area has a number of causes, Griffin thinks.

Many academics and researchers have been well-educated in farmland economics, which has been around for a century. Most are not as well acquainted with the radical new technologies that have revolutionized much of on-farm production since the late 1980s.

“What is the area of interest of the people who write these articles?” Griffin said.

“It’s sort of a reflection of academia.”

Despite enormous interest in technology from farmers, few academics are focusing on the area, so there are few to do research and write articles.

“That’s why I’m on the road a lot,” said Griffin, who speaks to many farmer conferences and was the main keynote speaker at Farm Forum Event in Saskatoon in December.

“There are only a handful of us.”Beyond that, even the researchers who specialize in the area have trouble supporting their work.

“I struggle to find public funding to support my work in precision agriculture,” said Griffin, who has analyzed when new technologies are embraced by farmers and when they make good financial and economic sense.

However, if he was going to look for funding for research on cropping systems or farmland values, it wouldn’t be difficult, he thinks.

This creates an odd situation where agricultural news media and commercial publications are filled with stories about technology, machinery and farm management, but most academic journals are not.

Griffin is hoping that young researchers and academics embrace these areas because so much analysis is there to be done.

“There’s plenty of room,” said Griffin.

“There’s more work to go around than there are researchers to look into it.”

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