Prospects for the agri-food sector in 2012

Teagasc economists have just released their Situation and Outlook Report for the Irish primary agriculture sector for 2012 (proceedings here and presentations here). In 2011 there was a significant and welcome recovery in farm incomes (up 33% over 2010) although this was entirely due to higher prices and higher subsidies – the volume of agricultural output (at basic prices) remained unchanged despite slightly higher volume consumption of intermediate inputs.

The Teagasc view is that the value of gross output in agriculture will fall back slightly in 2012, due to a combination of lower production in some sectors and lower prices in others. There will be some savings on input costs, but lower subsidies in 2012 (due to a carryover of payments in 2011) means that operating surplus in agriculture is expected to fall by 12%.

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Directed technological change

One of the things that has always marked out economic history as a subfield within economics is its focus on the economics of technological change. The Habbakuk thesis held that the high wage environment of the United States helps explain the nature of that country’s technological progress in the 19th century, and Bob Allen has recently argued that high wages and cheap energy are key to understanding the British Industrial Revolution.

I was pleased to see John Bruton referring to this in his recent LSE speech.

Since this is the weekend, here is another example of directed technological change (or at least, such is Roger Cohen’s interpretation), this time from Denmark.

Rising food prices and farm incomes

Aideen Sheehan has a piece on food prices in today’s Irish Independent reporting that prices of some popular branded foods have risen by 7% over the past 8 months compared to prices in a survey conducted by the National Consumer Agency last summer. However, the real story in recent months has been the remarkable stability in food prices despite soaring commodity prices on world markets.

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Could the Irish sugar industry have been saved?

I have been amazed by the media spin put on the European Court of Auditors’ report into the implementation of the EU’s sugar regime reform in 2006. This reform resulted in Greencore deciding to close the only remaining Irish sugar factory in Mallow, thus signalling the end of beet-growing in this country. The reform cut the price of sugar beet by 36% while removing 30% of the EU sugar production quota over a four year period. It is simply not credible to suggest that the Irish industry could have survived in this new environnment.
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