USDA-Economic Research Service
AAEA Activities: 2011 AAEA Fellow
Eldon Ball is a Senior Economist with the USDA-Economic Research Service with responsibility for the design and implementation of the USDA’s program of research on agricultural productivity. A Kentucky native, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics from Berea College, a Master of Arts degree in economics from North Carolina State University, and a doctorate in agricultural and resource economics from the University of Maryland.
Ball is perhaps best known for his unyielding efforts to keep the USDA on the frontiers of measurement efforts and in doing so has established himself as a national leader in the practice of productivity measurement. With his determination and persistence, he has been the singular driving force in leading the USDA to create a state-of-the-art system of official statistics on productivity that has served as a model in this important area of research.
The USDA has long been concerned with sectoral productivity. In fact, the USDA in 1960 was the first agency to introduce multifactor productivity measurement into the federal statistical program. Today, under Ball’s leadership, ERS routinely publishes total factor productivity measures from a sophisticated system of production accounts that distinguish multiple outputs and inputs and adjust for quality change in each input category.
A properly constructed measure of productivity growth for the aggregate farm sector is certainly important. It provides a useful summary statistic indicating how economic welfare is being advanced through productivity gains in agriculture, but it may mask important state-specific or regional trends. At a minimum, it is important to determine how much of the observed increase in aggregate productivity is due to productivity growth within states and how much is the result of shifts in production among states. Recognizing this, Ball constructed the first internally consistent set of state and aggregate farm sector accounts. These accounts allow us to see more clearly each state’s contribution to aggregate productivity growth.
The state accounts provide estimates of the growth and relative levels of productivity. The availability of panel data has allowed researchers to investigate hypotheses regarding the diffusion of technical information across states. Indeed, the data series he developed and maintained have served as the empirical basis for a great number of applied production analyses of U.S. agriculture. Because of their quality and accuracy, they are widely regarded as the data series where new theories and methodologies must surmount rigorous empirical testing before their adoption into the canons of applied agricultural production analysis.
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