Monday, January 25, 2016

AAEA Trust Profile: Andrew Stevens

Andrew Stevens
Graduate Student Instructor
University of California - Berkeley
You won the 2015 Chester O. McCorkle Jr. Student Scholarship for your research proposal: Agricultural Supply Response at the Farm-Operation Level: Exploiting the “Census by Satellite” Approach, what prompted you to pursue this topic and how is your research progressing? 

Ever since spending a summer as an Intern with the Economic Research Service (ERS) at the USDA, I have been really interested in utilizing some of their remarkable new data products in my own work. In particular, the Cropland Data Layer (CDL) gives researchers unprecedented information about land use and crop cover across the United States at a remarkably fine resolution. I have recently combined the CDL with other data from the USDA to construct a multi-year panel of field-level crop choices for several states in the US Corn Belt. This has allowed me to explore interesting questions about what factors influence a farmer’s crop choices. I am specifically interested in developing a deeper understanding of how evolving incentives from global market forces, agricultural policy, and shifting demographics will ultimately impact where, when, and how crops are grown in the US. Thanks to the Chester O. McCorkle Jr. Student Scholarship, I have been able to begin exploring these questions. I recently presented a working paper at the 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting in San Francisco about how the placement of ethanol refineries impacts where (and how much) corn is grown in the US Corn Belt. With all the professional support I have received from the AAEA, ERS, and individual agricultural economists, I am looking forward to expanding this line of research and exploring similar topics in the coming years.

What led you to pursue food and agricultural economics?
I realized pretty early on in college that economics was a good fit for me. In contrast to purely analytical fields like mathematics or heavily qualitative fields like anthropology, I liked how the discipline of economics pairs rigorous theoretical models and empirical analyses with compelling questions of human behavior. However, I quickly realized how large “economics” was as an academic field and decided I had to specialize. At that point, it became plainly clear that I was most interested in questions related to agriculture and food. I don’t know exactly why. Perhaps it was because the questions in this field are so persistent. (For instance, even in the 21st Century, the Malthus-Boserup debate rages on.) Perhaps it was because I had spent time on my grandfather’s farm as a child and had developed a nostalgia for rural America. Perhaps it was because the issues of GMOs, organic agriculture, and local food had so strongly captured the public’s attention. Whatever the reason, I have never yet bored of the questions I ask and the problems I study. With any luck, I never will.

What advice would you offer aspiring agricultural/applied economists?
Being an aspiring agricultural/applied economist myself, I feel unqualified to offer my own advice with any confidence. However, my general advice is to forge as many professional relationships as possible. All the agricultural/applied economists I have met over the past few years have been remarkably supportive and generous with their time, even if they have been from other universities or subfields. Take a chance and e-mail someone with a question you have. If you’re at a conference, introduce yourself to someone whose research interests you. The AAEA does a lot to support young economists like me and provides many opportunities to form connections with more experienced researchers. Go to conferences. Present your work. Incorporate others’ feedback and suggestions. Ask questions. Follow up on interesting conversations. Take a chance.

This post is part of an ongoing series of profiles of AAEA members. Have a suggestion for a future profile? Send them to

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