OSU Professor Dr. Paul W. Barkley Tackles Food and Agricultural Controversies in New Book Depolarizing Food and Agriculture: An Economic Approach

A trip to the grocery store can be fraught with perplexing food purchasing decisions: organic or conventional production, global or local food sourcing, genetically modified (GM) or non-GM products.  These issues are divisive among buyers, sellers, and growers along the supply chain of food and agricultural production.  Dr. Paul W. Barkley, an Oregon State University adjunct professor in the Department of Applied Economics, teamed with his son Andrew Barkley to coauthor Depolarizing Food and Agriculture: An Economic Approach, a book that analyzes these controversial topics and potential solutions.  The Barkleys’ book presents contemporary, polarizing issues in food and agriculture through an economic lens providing the reader a balanced understanding of the costs and benefits of several arguments with a concerted effort to purge biases and value judgments from the decision-making process.  The Barkleys suggest that applying economic theory to these dichotomous issues may help to alleviate some tensions and reduce inefficiencies in the industry.

“The notion of agricultural life often construes images of going down to grandma’s house, neighbors helping their neighbors, and rustic barnyards settings,” Paul said.  But agriculture is a large and complex industry, and like other big industries, is plagued with complicated, multifaceted problems.  “When you peel back that romanticized layer, you find many countervailing notions of how the industry should be run,” said Paul.  These divisions take time, money and labor from the agricultural industry.  In short, they create inefficiencies.

Many industries rely on new technology and innovation to reduce inefficiencies, but new inventions often create inefficiencies in and of themselves. Technological advancement requires occupational changes and displaces existing businesses or production methods. This process is referred to as “creative destruction” and is described in the book as occurring when “new ideas, innovations, and ways of doing things lead to the destruction of old techniques, methods, and industries.”  The book discusses this process and provides a polarization model to explain some of the causes of polarization in the food and agricultural sector. The authors then suggest several economic principles modeled as possible solutions to reduce these inefficiencies.

Paul’s voice on controversies in the food and agriculture industry is well-founded.  He has been active in field of agricultural economics for 60 years, and has an impressive track record of authoring, coauthoring or editing 13 successful books.  In addition, he has been a leading member of the Agriculture and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), previously serving as the editor of the Association’s popular magazine Choices, and as authoring the organization’s Centennial History.

Paul and Andrew come from a family of teachers.  Paul’s parents, aunts, uncles, spouse, and two of his sons are educators.  “What do the Barkley’s do? They teach,” Paul remarked.  It’s no surprise, then, that Paul taught at Washington State University for over 35 years before coming to OSU, and coauthored the book with his son Andrew Barkley, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University.  Paul currently teaches the undergraduate and graduate course The Economic History of American Agriculture in OSU’s Department of Applied Economics.

Paul concedes that coauthoring the book with his son had its normal father-son squabbles, none of which were too difficult to overcome.  In fact, the two previously coauthored the textbook Principles of Agricultural Economics which is currently being revised and updated.  So what will Paul and Andrew Barkley impress us with next?  They are in the planning phases of coauthoring a book on wheat, details forthcoming. We look forward to more important agricultural economic literature from the Barkley duo in the near future.

Depolarizing Food and Agriculture: An Economic Approach was released in October 2014 and has already garnered much attention, flooding Paul’s email inbox with interested readers.  You can get your copy on Amazon.