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Persistence Pays

U.S. Agricultural Productivity Growth and the Benefits from Public R&D Spending

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  • © 2010


  • Contains an empirical assessment of the long-run investments in and payoffs to agricultural R&D in the United States, which will be of broader international as well as U.S. interest
  • Includes substantial improvements in data, understanding, methods, and new and interesting empirical results
  • Provides comprehensive treatment of issues and prior literature and persuasive results written by leaders in the field
  • Very timely given the policy, professional, and media attention of late on the "food crisis," growing concerns about an agricultural productivity slowdown and the significant policy flux in Washington DC associated with 2007 Farm Bill
  • Includes supplementary material:

Part of the book series: Natural Resource Management and Policy (NRMP, volume 34)

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About this book

gricultural science policy in the United States has profoundly affected the growth and development of agriculture worldwide, not just in the A United States. Over the past 150 years, and especially over the second th half of the 20 Century, public investments in agricultural R&D in the United States grew faster than the value of agricultural production. Public spending on agricultural science grew similarly in other more-developed countries, and c- lectively these efforts, along with private spending, spurred agricultural prod- tivity growth in rich and poor nations alike. The value of this investment is seldom fully appreciated. The resulting p- ductivity improvements have released labor and other resources for alternative uses—in 1900, 29. 2 million Americans (39 percent of the population) were - rectly engaged in farming compared with just 2. 9 million (1. 1 percent) today— while making food and fiber more abundant and cheaper. The benefits are not confined to Americans. U. S. agricultural science has contributed with others to growth in agricultural productivity in many other countries as well as the Un- ed States. The world’s population more than doubled from around 3 billion in 1961 to 6. 54 billion in 2006 (U. S. Census Bureau 2009). Over the same period, production of important grain crops (including maize, wheat and rice) almost trebled, such that global per capita grain production was 18 percent higher in 2006.

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Table of contents (13 chapters)

  1. Context


  3. Inputs, Outputs and Productivity


  5. Agricultural R&D Funding and Policies


  7. Models of R&D and Productivity


  9. Interpretation and Synthesis



From the reviews:

Persistence Pays is a definitive source book on the economics of agricultural R&D in the United States. The topical coverage is impressively comprehensive, ranging from discussion of the historical development of U.S. agriculture and U.S. agricultural research policy, through a quantification of the patterns of production and input use, to econometric models of R&D and productivity and their implications. The treatment of particular themes is careful and instructive. The authors provide new, detailed, state-level data on both agricultural R&D investments and productivity, along with a critical survey and review of relevant measures, methods, and models, before presenting brand-new econometric results. These new results refine and extend past work in the area, reinforcing many of the past findings about the high social returns to agricultural research and the persistent patterns of underinvestment. The book has significant technical content that will be primarily of interest to other economists both in the classroom and in research applications, but it is also readily accessible to research administrators and policy makers, well beyond the United States, who wish to understand the links between public research policy, agriculture, and the economy.

—Jock R. Anderson. Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia, and Adviser, Agriculture and Rural Development, World Bank, Washington, DC.

This is a sophisticated book on a critically important subject. Many people have talked about the importance of public R&D in propelling the growth in American agricultural productivity but there has been scant hard evidence on the issue. Alston, Andersen, James, and Pardey rectify this deficiency with a brilliant book that represents a major contribution to our understanding of technological change—this is the new gold standard in the field. Theirachievement is multidimensional—they carefully construct new state-level data series on the quantity and quality of agricultural inputs and outputs, they offer a wealth of information on the institutions and functioning of the public agricultural research system, and they employ well-conceived models and state-of-the-art econometrics to tease out the effects of R&D expenditures on productivity growth. In the process they provide entirely new insights into myriad issues such as the extent of research spillovers, the nature of the lags in R&D investments, and the extent of the policy failures since the 1970s giving rise to a slowdown in farm productivity in the past10–20 years.

—Alan L. Olmstead. Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Economics, University of California, Davis and co-author of Creating Abundance: Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development, Cambridge University Press, 2008

This book presents new solid empirical evidence about the past, current and required future role of research and innovations to prepare U.S. agriculture to meet future domestic and international food demand in a sustainable manner. The economic rates of return are high and spillovers across states are large. The authors make a strong and well-supported case for expanding federal funding for agricultural research. Global food demand is likely to double over the next 50 years. Given the long time lag between research investments and productivity gains, documented in this book, and the recent global food crisis, expanded investments are long overdue. Policy-makers, advisors and analysts should pay attention to the findings reported in this book and take appropriate action now to stop the current trend of decreasing rates of productivity growth.

—Per Pinstrup-Andersen. H. E. Babcock Professor of Food, Nutrition and Public Policy, J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship, and Professor of Applied Economics at CornellUniversity; and Professor of Agricultural Economics at Copenhagen University. World Food Prize Laureate, 2001

“The main purpose of this book is to provide a better understanding of the pattern of US agricultural productivity growth … in the USA during the period from 1949 to 2002. … this book is informative and provides a lot of details on the US agricultural sector for both productivity and research funding issues. This book can be treated as a reference book. … it is not only for professionals, but could also be informative to policy makers as well as general readers.” (Sun Ling Wang, European Review of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 37 (3), September, 2010)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Div. Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of California, Davis, Davis, U.S.A.

    Julian M. Alston

  • Dept. Agricultural & Applied Economics, University of Wyoming, Laramie, U.S.A.

    Matthew A. Andersen

  • Dept. Agribusiness, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, U.S.A.

    Jennifer S. James

  • Dept. Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, U.S.A.

    Philip G. Pardey

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Persistence Pays

  • Book Subtitle: U.S. Agricultural Productivity Growth and the Benefits from Public R&D Spending

  • Authors: Julian M. Alston, Matthew A. Andersen, Jennifer S. James, Philip G. Pardey

  • Series Title: Natural Resource Management and Policy

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Springer New York, NY

  • eBook Packages: Business and Economics, Economics and Finance (R0)

  • Copyright Information: Springer-Verlag New York 2010

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4419-0657-1Published: 14 December 2009

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-1-4614-2523-6Published: 25 February 2012

  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4419-0658-8Published: 27 November 2009

  • Series ISSN: 0929-127X

  • Series E-ISSN: 2511-8560

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XXXII, 504

  • Number of Illustrations: 215 b/w illustrations

  • Topics: Agricultural Economics, Economic Policy, R & D/Technology Policy

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