Twenty Years of Agricultural and Trade Policy Research

John Beghin, FAPRI, 515-294-5811;
Susan Thompson, Ag Communications, Iowa State University College of Agriculture, (515) 294-0705;
From "Agriculture in Action: Notes from ISU" by Susan Thompson

August 12, 2004

In 1984, the U.S. Congress decided it needed help developing the next farm bill. A special appropriation led to the establishment of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI). Twenty years later, this joint effort between Iowa State University and the University of Missouri-Columbia continues to provide vital information to public policymakers.

Researchers from the two universities meet regularly to analyze alternative agricultural policies and present their findings to senior staff of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agriculture committees.

Economic models developed by FAPRI researchers are used to evaluate trends and changes in agricultural commodity markets. Keeping abreast of those trends and changes is critical. Agricultural and food markets change. Some countries expand production. Others decrease production. Some countries have dramatically expanding incomes while others have shrinking incomes. FAPRI researchers continually monitor these sorts of changes and make sure they are reflected in their models.

FAPRI has created national and international models for grains, oilseeds, livestock and dairy. Also available are U.S. models for sugar and crop insurance and an international model for cotton.

Each year, FAPRI researchers prepare baseline projections for the U.S. agricultural sector and international commodity markets. The process begins with a preliminary baseline that is reviewed by a panel of experts, including employees of several agencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, experts from international organizations, individuals throughout the land grant and other university systems, as well as extension specialists and industry experts.

The reviewers' comments and suggestions are taken into consideration in the final baseline. The multi-year projections then are published as FAPRI Outlooks, which provide a starting point for evaluating and comparing scenarios involving macroeconomic, policy, weather and technology variables. The projections are used by farmers, government agencies and officials, agribusinesses and others who do medium-range and long-term planning.

FAPRI's first year of operation focused on providing Congress with analysis of alternative proposals for the 1985 farm bill. Since then, FAPRI analysis of farm bill policy options has been widely cited and used during farm bill deliberations.

FAPRI was involved in an ongoing analysis of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade from 1989 to 1994, publishing a series of special reports for policymakers. With the Doha Round of trade negotiations now underway, FAPRI researchers continue to be a critical source of information, providing thoughtful analysis of the trade policy options being considered.