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Agricultural Economics: Meaning, Scope and Nature

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In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Meaning of Agricultural Economics 2. Scope of Agricultural Economics 3. Nature 4. Agriculture as Applied Science.

Meaning of Agricultural Economics:

Agricultural Economics, as its title implies is that branch of economics which deals with all aspects of problems related to agriculture. According to Snodgrass and Wallace, “Agricultural economics is an applied phase of the social science of economics in which attention is given to all aspects of problems related to agriculture.”

Prof. Gray treats agricultural economics as a branch of general subject of economics. It is only one of the many branches of applied economics. Such as Industrial Economics, Labour Economics, Monetary Economics, Transport Economics, Public Economics, International Economics, Household Economics, etc.

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Thus according to Prof. Gray, agricultural economics only a phase of an immense field called economics in which primary attention is paid to the analysis of the economic problems associated with agriculture, Prof. Gray defines agricultural economics, “as the science in which the principles and methods of economics are applied to the special conditions of agricultural industry.” No doubt both these definitions are wider in scope, but these are not explanatory and are characterised by vagueness unsettled.

Prof. Hubbard has defined agricultural economics as, “the study of relationship arising from the wealth-getting and wealth-using activity of man in agriculture.” This definition is based o Prof. Ely’s definition of economics and is mere akin to Marshall’s conception of economic activities and therefore it is also limited in scope.

According to Lionel Robbins, economics deals with the problems of allocative efficiency i.e. choice between various alternative uses-particularly when resources are scarce— to maximize some given ends. Thus it provides analytical techniques for evaluating different allocations of resources among alternative uses Prof. Taylor defines agricultural economics in Robbinsian tone.

To use his words, “Agricultural economics treats of the selection of land, labour, and equipment for a farm, the choice of crops to be grown, the selection of livestock enterprises to be carried on and the whole question of the proportions in which all these agencies should be combined. These questions are treated primarily from the point of view of costs and prices.”

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Frankly speaking Taylor’s definition appears to be a pretty careful definition of farming from the point of view of farm management and therefore is narrow and limited in scope. A similar definition has been furnished by Prof. Jouzier as, “Agricultural Economics is that branch of agricultural science which treats of the manner of regulating the relations of the different elements comprising the resources of the former whether it be the relation to each other or to human beings in order to secure the greatest degree of prosperity”.

According to Prof. Edgar Thomas, “Agricultural economics is concerned with farming as a business and with agriculture as an industries. In the more restricted sphere of farm management the student of agricultural economics is concerned with the business problems of the firm of the producing unit of the industries. In the wider sphere of social economics he is concerned with the general economic pattern of the agricultural industry as a whole and with the forces responsible for the moulding of that pattern; he is also concerned with the relation of the agricultural industry to other industries within the national economy as well as with its place in world economy.”

According to Prof. Heady, “Agricultural economics is an applied field of science wherein the principles of choice are applied to the use of capital, labour, land and management resources in the farming industries. As a study of resource efficiency, it is concerned with defining the condition under which the ends or objectives of farm manager form families and the nation’s consumers can be attained to the greatest degree.”

As we know, economic activities are divided into production, exchange, distribution and consumption, agricultural economics cover all of them-what to produce, how to produce, how much to produce, what to sell, where to sell and at what price to sell; what to distribute, among whom to distribute and on what basis to distribute; and what to consume and how much to consume.

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Specifically, we can say agricultural economics includes the choice of farming as an occupation, the choice between cultivator and animal husbandry of machinery and labour; combination of various factors of production, intensity of cultivation irrigation, manuring, marketing, soil conservation, land revenues system, costs, prices, wages, profits, finance, credit, employment, etc. In all these cases the fundamental problem before the agricultural economist is to recommend the combination of factors of production in ideal proportion under given conditions in the economic interests of the agricultural community.

According to prof. Holerow, “Agricultural economics is concerned with the allocation of resources in the agricultural industry, with the alternatives in production, marketing or public policy.” Agricultural economists are concerned with the study of efficiency in farm production, with the returns that will result from employing various quantities and combinations of inputs in farming, and with determining the best farm production alternatives under given physical and economic conditions.

They are concerned with the economics of agricultural markets, with the costs of marketing various farm products, and with the alternative steps or changes that may made in the marketing structure to serve the objectives of society more efficiently.

They are interested in analysis of the alternatives in public policy and the economic effects of carrying out a particular programme, such as price support law or a soil conservation programme. Agricultural economists make use of the tools of economic analysis in studying.

Scope of Agricultural Economics:

The foregoing definitions indicate the scope of agricultural economics. A common theme of scarcity of resources and choice of uses runs almost through all of these definitions. That way, agricultural economics is not different from the general economics.

All the tools of analysis used in general economics are employed in agricultural economics as well. We have the same branches of agricultural economics i.e. economics of production, consumption, distribution, marketing, financing and planning and policy making as in case of general economics. A study at the micro and macro level for the agricultural sector is also generally made. Static and dynamic analyses are also relevant for the agricultural sector of the economy.

To be more specific, these definitions point out that agricultural economics examines how a farmer chooses various enterprises e.g., production of crops or rising of cattle and how he chooses various activities in the same enterprise. E.g., which crop to grow and which crop to drop; how the costs are to be minimized; what combination of inputs for an activity are to be selected; but amount of each crop is to be produced but type of commercial relation the farmer have to have with people from whom they purchase their input or to whom they sail their product.

Agricultural economics does not study only the behavior of a farmer at the farm level. That is, in a way, the micro analysis. Agricultural problems have a macro aspect as well. Instability of agriculture and agricultural unemployment are the problems which have to be dealt with, mainly at the macro level.

And then, there are the general problems of agricultural growth and the problems like those concerning tenurial systems and tenurial arrangements, research and extension services which are again predominantly macro in character. Such problems their origin, their impact and their solutions are all the subject matter of agricultural economics.

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Again, ‘agricultural economics’ as at present does not confine itself to the principles concerning ‘economising of resource in agriculture’ only whether at the micro or macro level or from the ‘static’ a ‘dynamic’ point of view.

The scope of agricultural economics is larger than ‘mere economizing of resources’. Agriculture is, as we know an important sector, of the overall economy. The mutual dependence of the various sectors of the economy on each other is well established. Growth of one sector is necessary for the growth of the other sector.

As such, in agricultural economics, we also study how development of agriculture helps the development of the other sectors of the economy; how can labour and capital flow into the non-agricultural sectors; how agricultural development initiates and sustains the development of other sectors of the economy.

What this implies is that agricultural economics not only develops concerning the use of scarce resources in agriculture proper but also examines the principles (a) regarding the out flow of scare resources to other sectors of the economy and (b) about the flow of these resources from other sectors into the agricultural sector itself.

Nature of Agricultural Economics:

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Agricultural economics makes use of the principles of general economics. The first point to be noted with regard to the nature of agricultural economics is that, in general, it borrows most of its principle from its parent body of knowledge i.e., the general economics.

Even the main branches of agricultural economics are similar to those of general economics. But than a question arises. If the principles of general economics are not different from the principal of agricultural economics, why is there a need for separate study of agricultural economics?

The answer lies in the fact that agricultural economics does not merely imply a direct application of principles of economics to the field of agriculture. The principles of economics are too general in nature and the general theory of economics has been considered as an abstraction from reality.

Before this theory is applied to agriculture which includes, besides crop production, forestry and animal husbandry for the purpose of economic analysis, its principles have to be modified so that their postulates totally tally with the main features of the situation of obtaining in the agricultural sector.

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A few examples will make it clear. We study in economic theory, price formation under various market structures e.g., monopoly, perfect competition and oligopoly. So far as agriculture is concerned, it is presumed that as the number of farms is very large and at the same time, their size is relatively small and the crops produced are undifferentiated (homogeneous), perfect competition is likely to prevail is the agricultural produce market.

In other words, we shall almost be completely ignoring the study of price formation of agricultural produce under condition of oligopoly or monopolistic competition or monopoly. Than, there is the system of tenancy or crop sharing in agriculture – a problem particular to agriculture only. Study of this problem will necessitate modification of the principle of resource allocation as propounded in general economics.

The modification of the economic principles, required to be made before being applied to agriculture are so large and varied that there is a complete justification for studying agricultural economics as a separate body of knowledge.

Is Agricultural Economics an Applied Science?

A superficial glance at the preceding paragraph can give such an impression. And in-fact, some agricultural economists have called agricultural economics as an applied science.

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According to Forster and Leoger, “Agricultural Economics is an applied science and as such is concerned with the identification, description and classification of economic problems of agriculture to the end that these problems may be solved.” Also according to Gray, ‘Agricultural Economics may be defined as the science in which the principles and methods of Economics are applied to the special conditions of agricultural industry.’

However, Black does not agree with this view. Applied science, as we know involves the use of the principles of a pure science to a particular situation. For example, engineering is an applied science. It suggests how to apply the principles of physics & other sciences to certain situations.

The principles of physics themselves are not modified. These stay intact. In agricultural economics, general principles of economics themselves are modified. According to Black principles of agricultural economics can be compared to mechanics and not physics.

If mechanics deserves to be called a specialised form of pure science, we can use the same term for agricultural economics i.e., specialized form of pure science, rather than an applied science. Agricultural economics is both a science as well as art. We have earlier pointed out that agricultural economics should not be called as an applied science but as a specialised form of pure science.

As such a science, it explains the cause and effect relationships between various economics variables operating in agriculture. And relationship as found to exist, can be used for solving various problems affecting agriculture. As such Agricultural economics is also an art. Further, as is the case with ‘General Economics’, Agricultural Economics is a normative science also.

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